Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins is a speculative fiction novel set in a dystopian California. The story follows two main characters, Luz and Ray, who are living together in an abandoned mansion in the Hollywood Hills when they come across a strange two-year-old child, Ig. This forces them to consider leaving Los Angeles for the greener pastures of the eastern states where Ray was born.
The novel explores themes of ecology and place, family and identity, partnership and sex, longing and destitution. It paints a vivid picture of a world torn apart by poor climate decisions, with irradiated citizens of a town near Yucca Mountain, a nuclear waste repository, and the “Mojav” refugees from California experiencing brutal mistreatment in camps and racism from “non-Mojavs.”
The book also examines the darker aspects of celebrity culture, with the Amargosa Dune Sea representing the glamour that presses up close to death.
The businessman looking down from the airplane in the novel correctly perceives that the Amargosa Dune Sea is death, but that’s precisely why he’s drawn to it and can’t turn away.
At the end of the novel, Luz is pulled under and drowns in the rain she prayed for for years, while Ray survives and drives to Wisconsin.
What I Liked
I loved the depth of the world that this book imagines. It’s a climate dystopia where California is a barren desert, but wow is the world richly imagined. The book brings out every detail and has just incredible prose.
The plot is engaging and easy to read and follow. All the characters are fascinating and fully developed. It’s just a really solid novel.
I loved that it (spoiler-ish?) showed that humans will always be humans, no matter our environment
What I Did Not Like
Without getting into spoilers, I do have questions. A lot of the plot is driven by what Luz does and does not know, and I’m not super-clear on some of the finer points of the plot. Otherwise, there’s not a whole lot that I didn’t like.