Fiction · New Title Tuesday · o'fallon public library · Reader's Advisory

The Golden State by Lydia Kiesling – New Title Tuesday

The New Title Tuesday this week, The Golden State by Lydia Kiesling will ring true to mothers who have juggled work, a baby, and financial stress while the significant other is not able to provide support or relief.

Golden StatePublisher’s Summary: In Lydia Kiesling’s razor-sharp debut novel, The Golden State, we accompany Daphne, a young mother on the edge of a breakdown, as she flees her sensible but strained life in San Francisco for the high desert of Altavista with her toddler, Honey. Bucking under the weight of being a single parent―her Turkish husband is unable to return to the United States because of a “processing error”―Daphne takes refuge in a mobile home left to her by her grandparents in hopes that the quiet will bring clarity.

But clarity proves elusive. Over the next ten days Daphne is anxious, she behaves a little erratically, she drinks too much. She wanders the town looking for anyone and anything to punctuate the long hours alone with the baby. Among others, she meets Cindy, a neighbor who is active in a secessionist movement and befriends the elderly Alice, who has traveled to Altavista as she approaches the end of her life. When her relationships with these women culminate in a dangerous standoff, Daphne must reconcile her inner narrative with the reality of a deeply divided world.

Keenly observed, bristling with humor, and set against the beauty of a little-known part of California, The Golden State is about class and cultural breakdowns, and desperate attempts to bridge old and new worlds. But more than anything, it is about motherhood: its voracious worry, frequent tedium, and enthralling, wondrous love.

Lydia Kiesling is the editor of The Millions, where she has been writing reviews and essays 2009. Her writing has appeared at a variety of outlets including The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, The Guardian, and Slate, and was recognized in Best American Essays 2016.

As in all good novels, setting upon one theme narrows the scope of the work.  In The Golden State, Kiesling presents the chaos that is motherhood and the need to maintain a separate identity versus the biological pull to remain conjoined with the child. This is also explored in the separate needs and power imbalance of rural and urban centers in the US.

Although I have never once felt the need to disagree with a New York Times review, I  humbly argue that The Golden State is not a Road Novel.  Kiesling’s protagonist does not “set out on the highway, lookin’ for adventure.”  She goes home.  Even though she knows there is no living family member to help guide her, it is evident Daphne is looking for support that only family can provide.

Kiesling accurately and lovingly portrays Daphne out of her element, in a surreal situation devoid of confidence and suffering original guilt the obvious result of original sin.

And then there’s Alice – the character whose story is a Road Novel. The golden state of The Golden State is elusive.  It is not the extravagant wealth of Los Angeles.  Actually, I am possibly wrong in supposing that all that glitters is not gold regarding the promise of California.

As Heather Able said in her Slate review,  “… baby care is a commaless stream of diapers jammies milk story teeth bed. While Daphne tends to Honey, she’s preoccupied by her bank account balance, Turkish grammar, the Islamophobia of the immigration system, the demographic and economic changes in the rural West that have fostered a secessionist movement, and when she can smoke her next cigarette. What Kiesling syntactically accomplishes is an exquisite look at the gulf between the narrow repetitive toil of motherhood and the sprawling intelligence of the mother that makes baby care so maddening.”

Happy Reading, Susan C.

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It’s 2003 and Romy Hall is at the start of two consecutive life sentences at Stanville Women’s Correctional Facility, deep in California’s Central Valley. Outside is the world from which she has been severed: the San Francisco of her youth and her young son, Jackson. Inside is a new reality: thousands of women hustling for the bare essentials needed to survive; the bluffing and pageantry and casual acts of violence by guards and prisoners alike; and the deadpan absurdities of institutional living, which Kushner evokes with great humor and precision.

Stunning and unsentimental, The Mars Room  demonstrates new levels of mastery and depth in Kushner’s work. It is audacious and tragic, propulsive and yet beautifully refined. As James Wood said in The New Yorker, her fiction “succeeds because it is so full of vibrantly different stories and histories, all of them particular, all of them brilliantly alive.”

 

Clock DanceClock Dance by Anne Tyler  –  Willa Drake can count on one hand the defining moments of her life. In 1967, she is a schoolgirl coping with her mother’s sudden disappearance. In 1977, she is a college coed considering a marriage proposal. In 1997, she is a young widow trying to piece her life back together. And in 2017, she yearns to be a grandmother but isn’t sure she ever will be. Then, one day, Willa receives a startling phone call from a stranger. Without fully understanding why, she flies across the country to Baltimore to look after a young woman she’s never met, her nine-year-old daughter, and their dog, Airplane. This impulsive decision will lead Willa into uncharted territory–surrounded by eccentric neighbors who treat each other like family, she finds solace and fulfillment in unexpected places. A bewitching novel of hope and transformation, Clock Dance gives us Anne Tyler at the height of her powers.

 

 

Prodigal Summer Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver weaves together three stories of human love within a larger tapestry of lives inhabiting the forested mountains and struggling small farms of southern Appalachia. At the heart of these intertwined narratives is a den of coyotes that have recently migrated into the region. Deanna Wolfe, a reclusive wildlife biologist, watches the forest from her outpost in an isolated mountain cabin where she is caught off-guard by Eddie Bondo, a young hunter who comes to invade her most private spaces and confound her self-assured, solitary life. On a farm several miles down the mountain, another web of lives unfolds as Lusa Maluf Landowski, a bookish city girl turned farmer’s wife, finds herself unexpectedly marooned in a strange place where she must declare or lose her attachment to the land. And a few more miles down the road, a pair of elderly, feuding neighbors tend their respective farms and wrangle about God, pesticides, and the complexities of a world neither of them expected.

Over the course of one humid summer, as the urge to procreate overtakes a green and profligate countryside, these characters find connections to one another and to the flora and fauna with which they necessarily share a place. Their discoveries are embedded inside countless intimate lessons of biology, the realities of small farming, and the final, urgent truth that humans are only one part of life on earth.

With the richness that characterizes Barbara Kingsolver’s finest work, Prodigal Summer embraces pure thematic originality and demonstrates a balance of narrative and ideas that only an accomplished novelist could render so beautifully.

 

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