California is Edan Lepucki's debut novel.
I am infatuated with dystopian and apocalyptic novels. The description of California immediately caught my eye...
"The world Cal and Frida have always known is gone, and they've left the crumbling city of Los Angeles far behind them. They now live a shack in the wilderness, working side by side to make their days tolerable in the face of hardship.....But the tentative existence they've built for themselves is turned upside down when Frida finds out she's pregnant."
There hasn't been a great nuclear war or one significant event that has heralded the end of the world that Cal and Frida knew. Instead it has been a series of natural disasters and reluctant but necessary acceptance of the way things are now. Society has eroded into the haves and the have nots. While Cal and Frida make their home in a shack, those that can afford to, live in safe, gated communities with food, health care and more. I immediately thought that this scenario is not that far off - having just read a newspaper story of water being turned off - the city of Detroit sprang to mind.
I wanted to know to know more about the erosion of society, but this isn't the focus of the book. Instead it is what comes after. I also wanted to know what lay beyond the woods that Cal and Frida have settled in. Are the rumours of other outsider settlements true?
I'm always fascinated by an author's world building in such novels. Lepucki does a good job imagining what might be. I think because it is so 'near future' and absolutely believable that the world of California is all the more chilling.
There are a great number of varied characters populating California. Of the two lead characters I was drawn to and empathized with Cal. I have to say that I didn't like Frida at all as I found her spoiled and selfish. But several of the players from 'beyond' the woods really captured my interest.
Much, if not most of the book, is focused on the characters and their interactions - between couples, family, friends and strangers. A society rebuilding does not necessarily learn from it's past mistakes. Much of what happens can be sadly predicted. Lepucki infuses this rebuilding with a plot that was slowly (and a bit maddeningly) revealed. The buildup to the end in the last quarter of the book is tension and action filled and had me reading just another chapter before bed. But the actual ending left me feeling somewhat unfulfilled. I found it anti-climatic after the journey to get there. It's a bit nebulous, leaving the reader to their own inferences as to what happens going forward.
Still, California was a strong debut and I would be interested in reading Lepucki's next novel. Read an excerpt of California. You can find Edan Lepucki on Twitter. And here's the story behind the "Colbert Approved".