Edan Lepucki’s 2014 post-apocalyptic novel California is one of the best entries in the genre I have laid my eyes on in a while. Complex, with ample room for the experiences of women at the end of the world, and with discussions of sexism, patriarchy, revolution, and family. I have yet to read all of the post-apocalyptic novels of 2014, but at the moment California stands with Station Eleven as one of the year’s best.
So let’s take a look at the first line and how it does (or doesn’t) work:
“On the map, their destination had been a stretch of green, as if they would be living on a golf course. No freeways nearby, or any roads, really: those had been left to rot years before. Frida had given this place a secret name, the afterlife, and on their journey, when they were forced to hide in abandoned rest stops, or when they’d filled the car with the last of their gasoline, this place had beckoned. In her mind it was a township, and Cal was the mayor. She was the mayor’s wife.
Of course it was nothing like that. The forest had not been expecting them. If anything, it had tried to throw them out, again and again. But they had stayed, perhaps even prospered. Now Frida could only laugh at the memory of herself, over two years ago: dragging a duffel bag behind her with a groan, her nails bitten to shit, her stomach roiling. Grime like she’d never imagined. Even her knees had smelled.”
It is a compact introduction to the world, to the journey that got the main characters out into the woods where we spend 100 pages watching them survive. I particularly appreciate how quickly Lepucki introduces the issue of romantic survival story versus harsh reality of living in the woods, a theme that she tackles well—never making a black-and-white statement about right and wrong, best and worst, but showing how perspective, experience, and personality can shape our options and change our perception of how wonderful or awful they are.
If you’re intrigued, expect a full-length review next Thursday on 1000 Ways to End the World.