By: Taylor Fulkerson ~Managing Editor~
A variety of post-apocalyptic novels have cropped up in recent years, addressing a variety of ways to imagine what a dystopian world might look like.
Themes include zombie attacks or a far-off future, but Edan Lepucki wants to address the world we know. Set a mere 50 to 60 years in the future in southern California, “California” examines the political consequences of an existence in which knowledge is a commodity andwhere nothing is certain. Lepucki’s first novel is a dazzling creation that deeply explores many “what-ifs” that crop up in American pop culture. While the world she creates deeply engages the reader’s curiosity, it lacks in polish. If a good novel becomes great in the details, “California” misses the mark.
Lepucki’s protagonists Frida and Cal (who is nicknamed California by Frida’s brother, Micah) tell the story, each chapter alternating between their voices. The device allows
Lepucki to explore particularly interesting questions of perspective and tension, including Frida’s feminism and Cal’s desire to protect his spouse. Both Frida and Cal guard a host of secrets to which the reader is privy, yet Lepucki manages to guard some secrets from the reader altogether, allowing suprises to crop up from beginning to end.
The world of secrets she creates operates on the idea that knowledge has become a matter of life and death, a technique of security and a political motivator. In the end, the world presented in “California” isn’t about mystery, but rather about the lack of knowledge that could be the characteristic to define the century to come. These tensions and others present themselves throughout the text. Wherever there are secrets, there must be some knowledge. Wherever there is security, it comes at a price for others.
Wherever there are ideals, there must be compromise. Lepucki’s novel also delves into the theme of violence. Frida in particular finds the aesthetic beauty of violence: the “magnificent, creative and daring” of violent structures. Cal only sees the pragmatism and brutality of violence. The tension of sociopolitical reality and aesthetic reality is constantly at play for Lepucki.
Where “California” fails to convince the reader of this other reality is in the details. For instance, some sounds do not seem to fit their subjects. A “dealer shuffling cards” cannot “tick-tick,” nor can a “coarse and crusty” animal hide “flap” in the breeze. Several features of the natural world seem peculiar and some descriptions of scenery are a stretch.
Lepucki’s novel is an entertaining late-summer read nevertheless and invites the reader to speculate along with the author what a world with ruined American cities, lack of reliable
transportation and frequent natural disasters might look like in the end.