In a parched southern California of the near future, Luz, once the poster child for the country’s conservation movement, and Ray, an army deserter turned surfer, are squatting in a starlet’s abandoned mansion. Most “Mojavs,” prevented by armed vigilantes from freely crossing borders to lusher regions, have allowed themselves to be evacuated to encampments in the east. Holdouts like Ray and Luz subsist on rationed cola and water, and whatever they can loot, scavenge, and improvise.
For the moment, the couple’s fragile love, which somehow blooms in this arid place, seems enough. But when they cross paths with a mysterious child, the thirst for a better future begins.
Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vay Watkins
Publication Date: September 29, 2015 by Riverhead Books
This book was a bust for me. The synopsis sounded intriguing enough, but like shiny objects lure in a cat, I think I was tricked by the gorgeous cover art (so pretty!)
I’m not the type of person who needs to love the characters in order to love a book; in fact I prefer a good villain or a complicated personality (Adelina from The Young Elites or Teo in Perfect Days. But the characters in Gold Fame Citrus fell flat for me again and again.
Because the reader spends the most time getting to know Luz, it was particularly painful to have such a flawed female character who seems to hero worship the men in her life (even when they clearly don’t deserve such admiration). From the very first pages of the novel, I found myself frustrated reading about Luz trying on fancy dresses while Ray is outside working on irrigation issues. There’s something irrational and silly about her and there never seems to be any growth despite the events that happen throughout the course of the novel.
Unfortunately, the reader doesn’t spend enough time with Ray to really formulate a real understanding of his character and too often I found myself not really caring what happened to him. The only other character that played a major role, Levy, was no better. While he was a bit more visible throughout the story than Ray, I was in awe of how so many people could see him as their capable leader when all I could see was a God complex and a serious touch of crazy. Because I just finished this book after reading Emma Cline’s The Girls, it was easy to draw parallels between the two stories (what is it about cults that are so fascinating?!), but while Cline’s novel left me twisted up over Evie at times, I did not feel any sort of connection to Luz.
The format of the novel is also difficult to really explain and it was just as difficult for me to grasp. Luz’s and Ray’s journey is interrupted throughout the story by chapters that read more like an encyclopedia – some describing how the state of the planet came to be, others that were more philosophical (two words – mole man) and difficult to really understand in relation to the main plot. I initially enjoyed the interruptions, but found as the story progressed that I really didn’t have the concentration necessary to even read through them all.
I’m a huge fan of dystopians (anything Margaret Atwood writes is sacred) and there are books similar to Gold Fame Citrus that I would recommend to anyone looking for a good apocalypse – The Road, Bird Box, and Rivers are just the first few that come to mind. As is bound to happen once in awhile, Gold Fame Citrus was just not my dystopian cup of tea.