BookPage Fiction Top Pick, July 2014
Stories of human survival and hope after an apocalyptic event are well worn at this point. As a result, the themes and tropes of these tales often feel so trodden and predictable that they become little more than echoes. Then, there are stories like California.
In the near future, civilization as Cal and Frida know it has crumbled. Hoping for a new life, they flee the ruined city of Los Angeles and settle in a small shed in the wilderness, carving out the best life they can with what little they have. It’s hard, but they have each other, and that seems comfort enough—until Frida discovers she’s pregnant.
Fearing what might happen if they try to survive the pregnancy alone, Cal and Frida set out for a mysterious nearby settlement, but when they arrive, it becomes clear that this hoped-for sanctuary is instead a world where it seems no one can be trusted.
The real secret to the greatness of California, aside from its fully realized characters and thoughtful narration, is an attention to detail that draws you immediately into Edan Lepucki’s mysterious new world. This isn’t a place of easy answers, but it is a place of layered, constantly unfolding ones. Frida and Cal’s journey is a web of secrets, fears and truths old and new, and Lepucki deftly creates the sense that these elements are simultaneously happening all at once and feeding off each other, crafting a truly unpredictable tale of human frailty and determination. Here, the world ends messily, like an ugly relationship, and the ways in which the characters have to put their lives back together are equally fractured. The result is not only a singular post-apocalyptic novel, but a debut you won’t want to miss. California will lure you in with its mysteries, seduce you with its secrets and haunt you long after you’ve finished it.