House Logo
Explore categories +

Margaret Atwood (#110 of 3)

Hopeless Possibility Claire Vaye Watkins’s Gold Fame Citrus

Comments Comments (...)

Hopeless Possibility: Claire Vaye Watkins’s Gold Fame Citrus
Hopeless Possibility: Claire Vaye Watkins’s Gold Fame Citrus

Even those who read Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath with belligerent disinterest remember that novel’s miraculously bizarre ending, in which Rose of Sharon offers her breast to an old man starving in a barn. It’s a moment so gravid with the many conditions of an exhausted America that’s malnourished and emptied, but also hopeful. Claire Vaye Watkins’s Gold Fame Citrus is a work of equal desperation and ambivalence, set in a near future where a generation-long drought has ravaged the Southwest, a place that, mostly evacuated, becomes a kind of hallucinatory wasteland. Like Steinbeck’s classic, thirst is everywhere in this debut novel: spiritual thirst, sexual thirst, a thirst for understanding and for survival. But unlike his novel, thirst isn’t driving Watkins’s characters to the West, but out of it, the California dream transposed into the California nightmare.

We begin in L.A., now a place of 10 million empty swimming pools. Luz, a rail-thin Mojav with an appetite for the nature writings of explorers like John Muir, and Ray, an AWOL soldier and surfer, have been quartering themselves in a starlet’s abandoned château after the “drought of droughts” has driven most of the population East. Living off of rationed cola and whatever else they can forage, the pair convince themselves they need to escape to safer territory after letting a young, strange child, dubbed Ig, into their lives. The book’s title serves as a kind of grotesque, nostalgic punchline when it becomes quickly apparent that the old desires found in the West—prosperity, stardom, sustenance—are no longer even vaguely on the horizon.

The Ask: A Novel and the Gen-X Badge of Honor

Comments Comments (...)

The Ask: A Novel and the Gen-X Badge of Honor
The Ask: A Novel and the Gen-X Badge of Honor

Sam Lipsyte’s The Ask: A Novel is exactly the kind of book one expects to be churned out of the academy these days: It’s swift, entertaining, technically perfect, and full of the kind of verbal pyrotechnics that apparently audiences don’t want. As A.O. Scott mentioned in a recent New York Times article: “Since its publication in March, The Ask has sold around 7,000 copies. Disappointing? Of course. Our generation wouldn’t have it any other way.”

For a certain kind of writer, and a certain kind of audience, this fact is less a failure than a badge of honor, mortgage payments and college tuition be damned. In fact, Generation X loves and requires this kind of commercial apathy. It secures them in a safety field of narcissism and rejection of all things mainstream, even though it’s the culture that has passed them by and not the other way around. Celebrating their own failure is the only kind of victory they can achieve.

It’s not that hitting the New York Times bestseller list isn’t a desirable outcome for these culturally-askance auteurs, they’ve simply stopped seeing that as the most accurate measurement of their work. With the media business suffering from disruption from high to low, simply surviving to write the next novel or cut the next album is the new emblem for success. At least until a new economic model emerges for serious literature.