Author: Edan Lepucki
Publisher: Little, Brown
Release Date: 2014
The world, as we know it, has ended. Society has more or less collapsed, natural disasters have killed off thousands or maybe millions, the rich have fortified themselves in luxury cities for those who can pay, and some people go into the vast wilderness to try their luck away from the crumbling cities. Frida and Cal are two such people. Living in complete solitude, they try to make due with what little they managed to bring from L.A. and whatever they can grow, forage etc. Cal loves it, Frida not so much. When Frida suspects that she’s become pregnant, they set out in search of a settlement. Then it all becomes a game of trying to guess what’s going on, what’s been going on and who’s shady or not. It’s less exciting than it sounds.
I’m up for anything post-apocalyptic and California started out promising, with a lot of “hmm, what happened there?” to keep me reading. Unfortunately, the answer was often “meh, not very much.” Lepucky has good ideas for sure, but the execution is so-so and the drama simply not dramatic enough. I was promised shocks and shades of 1984 and The Road. Those comparisons almost make me want to start throwing punches. Ok, the mood started out great and eerie, the same with the setting and the potential for being unsettling or even creepy. But it doesn’t last for long. As soon as Cal and Frida goes in search of other people, that’s it, it’s all down hill from there. Not that I mind the storyline so much, and there were some pretty good elements, but the twists weren’t twisty and the creepiness wore off quick. One critic said that what makes Lepucki’s vision unsettling is its total plausibility. And I agree. Reality can indeed be bland.
Am I sounding a bit harsh? Maybe. And I guess I can forgive someone for not writing the scariest book of all time – scary books are insane scarce. I suppose I can also forgive someone for not producing big gasps with their twists. It’s not an easy thing to do and this is a debut novel. But what I have a very hard time with is lack of subtlety. Every emotional change in the characters, every opinion and thought is spelled out. If you’re not in the head of a certain character, that character will no doubt say exactly how they’re feeling out loud. Almost to the point of “grr, I am very angry now!” or “you are feeling this way right now, aren’t you?” “yes.” It annoyed me to no end. If you can’t make emotions and states of mind come across without expression them directly, well, you’re not a very good writer in my book. This is my main complaint about California and it is a fairly big one. If you don’t mind not having to gauge any situation or relationship between characters yourself, then you might not find is as bothersome as I did. But I prefer subtlety.
Bottom line, good ideas poorly executed.