Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins

Speculative imaginings of our world in the wake of climate change are providing many authors with rich material for exploration. It’s fertile ground for some big questions that we should probably all be thinking about: after capitalism has drained all the Earth’s resources dry, how are we going to survive; what will ‘society’ look like; how far will you go to stay alive?

For the residents of California, the water has run out, and the end-times are at hand. Those whose ancestors once moved to the state on the promise of its many riches – its gold mines, its promise of celebrity, its agriculture – are now trapped. A giant sand dune, the Dune Sea, is on the move and swallowing everything in its path. It is the obstacle that lies between this once-bountiful land and a version of hope. Luz and Ray are squatting in an abandoned mansion, living on pop and making use of the house’s now-absurd luxury amenities. On one of their excursions to commune and trade with other itinerant survivors, they come across a child who is clearly in precarious custody. In a split-second decision based on an old notion of family now seemingly out of place in this new world, they take the child into their care. This guardianship becomes the impetus for them to follow whispers of a new community and a water-divining prophet. But at what cost comes their faith in a way out?

Claire Vaye Watkins’s short story collection, Battleborn, won significant acclaim and this debut novel proves she is clearly a talent to watch. Gold Fame Citrus has an impressive confidence, and is the work of an author with a wild imagination and the writing chops to realise its horizons. Watkins plays with both style and substance, but always has her characters firmly in mind and clearly on the page. It’s a book that is full of surprises, and is one I’ll be recommending a lot in the coming months.

Alison Huber is Readings’ Head Book Buyer.