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.
Publisher’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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