Gold Fame Citrus
Claire Vaye Watkins's extraordinary debut novel, Gold Fame Citrus, is set in a terrifying plausible future, when the Golden State has been destroyed by drought. The Southwest has been evacuated; refugees from the expanding desert are known as Mojavs. Among the survivors are ex-soldier Ray and his girlfriend, Luz. Crashing in an abandoned mansion in the Hollywood Hills, the couple survives on crackers, ration cola, and anemic black-market fruit. (Watkins's prose vividly captures the devastation. She describes "a coyote carcass going wicker in the ravine" and "an avocado whose crumbling taup innards once made you weep.") But after Luz and Ray take in a 2-year-old girl, Ig, they know they can no longer stay. During their trek east, they reach the Amargosa, the enormous "dune sea" between California and Nevada. At its shore is a miraculously thriving colony led by a prophet named Levi. Raised Mormon, Levi fancies himself a modern-day Joseph Smith, guided by revelations. Levi is considered a divine dowser who finds water from ephemeral rivers. Ray doubts Levi, but Luz, desperate to believe in something, is reluctant to look too hard at whether the prophecies are real or a mirage. Gold Fame Citrus explores the power of both the natural world and mythmaking. Early in the novel, Ray tells Luz, "California people are quitters. No offense. It's just you've got restlessness in your blood... Your people came here looking for something better. Gold, fame, citrus." The novel is in fact filled with seekers: people with a thirst not just for water, but also for purpose and faith. In that sense, Gold Fame Citrus, is finally a religious story, a particularly American one—giving voice to the pioneer's faith in self-invention.
— Elliott Holt