Thank you, Reblog Book Club members! I love you!
Welcome to the end of the world. Or, rather, the beginning of the end.
A formulaic apocalyptic story begins with a simple explanation for the world’s demise. Viruses. Global warming. Global cooling. Aliens. Zombies. Genetically enhanced apes. Then, it moves from the exposition to the saga of one or two sympathetic characters, usually the strongest of mankind fighting against the dissolution of civilization. Finally, there is the battle for survival — man vs. alien, man vs. nature, or man vs. man — that determines whether society will move forward in triumph or succumb to its predetermined demise.
Edan Lepucki offers readers an alternative in her apocalyptic debut novel, California. From the first sentence, we are plunged into the muck of a collapsed American society, one where a young couple struggles to survive in the wilderness of Southern California. Here, sussing out the reasons behind society’s downfall matters far less than figuring out how to forage for food, till the land, and prepare for the oncoming winter.
I read this book the way you run downhill: at a staggering, unstoppable pace. Lepucki peppers her story with many jaw-dropping moments, but more impressively, she thoughtfully fleshes out the humdrum of everyday life in an apocalyptic world. She manages to answer every question I obnoxiously raise during all end-of-the-world stories, such as, “How long would your leg hair be if you didn’t get to shave for a year?” and “How would you find soap to wash your clothes in the woods?” and “How long would it take to get sick of someone after spending countless hours in the wilderness with them?”
Eventually, as with all apocalyptic tales, disaster finds our protagonists. Against increasing odds, Cal and Frida are forced to fight for their family, their sanity, and their place in a bizarre new world. In Edan’s America, nothing makes sense and no one has answers. I love the way that Lepucki broadens the scope of the novel, holding the couple under a magnifying lens while examining the way that society at large copes with the aftermath of its own destruction. Even in a world where order and culture has been shattered, people still find ways to resurrect the darkest parts of human nature.
As I mentioned on my blog earlier this month, I would have loved an epilogue or even (dare I say it) a sequel to Cal and Frida’s story. It’s too frightening and delicious a world to abandon after several hundred pages, and I still have many unanswered questions. If you find yourself in need of a hearty, heart-dropping thriller, run out to your nearest independent bookseller and pick up California. You won’t regret it.
You can purchase a copy of California: A Novel by Edan Lepucki at the Book Depository here. Seattle Books is a proud affiliate of the Book Depository and has committed 100% of proceeds from book sales to blog giveaways and site maintenance. All thoughts expressed above are the blogger’s and are not endorsed or solicited by the Book Depository.
First of all, thank you to the reblogbookclub for picking California by Edan Lepucki ( italicsmine ) as the latest selection. It was an absolute joy to read this novel and it may not have been one that I would’ve picked up on my own. Also a huge thank you to littlebrown for sending me a copy of the book.
Now, let’s get to it.
The world is crumbling. Cal and Frida have decided to leave their apartment in L.A. and try to start over in the wilderness. But what starts out as a story about a couple trying their best to survive ends up being a really poignant story about trust, family, and the end of the world.
Admittedly I haven’t read a lot of post-apocalyptic novels. But I think the reason that this book resonated so well with me is because Lepucki’s end of the world seems so…realistic. In California the United States has been slowly crumbling from an increase of horrible natural disasters, dwindling resources, and a larger gap between the wealthy and the poor. Medical treatments are hard to come by and antibiotics only work some of time. All of these play into Lepucki’s world and pretty much all of these are already happening in the current world. This could easily be our future.
Another huge theme of the book is secrecy. From the beginning of the book Cal and Frida keep secrets from each other. As the story progresses they hoard more and more until it threatens to tear them apart. Pair that with all the secrets of the land around them and the people in their life it gets hard to know who to trust. After about the first third of the book I pretty much questioned everything else.
I adored Lepucki’s writing. From chapter to chapter, arc to arc, and even from the very beginning to the end she kept serving up twists that I wasn’t expecting. [Spoiler] With the exception of Micah being alive. That one I kind of saw coming. But luckily Lepucki used that character to spawn a bunch more problems for our protagonists. The story ends in such a different location from where it starts. But in terms of how the characters are living, it’s not so different from the beginning.
What was also well done is that nobody was painted in a totally good or totally evil light. Everyone was created from shades of gray. Some characters do really horrible things, but they do them for the sake of survival. It’s hard to classify any of the characters as completely bad or good.
I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a well-written story, post-apocalyptic or distopian novels (or movies) of any flavor, or characters who are flawed and not totally likable. This is Edan Lepucki’s debut novel and I look forward to reading more from her.
I gave it a 5/5 on my Goodreads account which translates to “It was amazing.”
California my thoughts on sections for week 2 and 3
Sorry I was on vacation so I missed a lot of this!
Anyways heres my thoughts on everything. My very uncollected thoughts but hopefully Jenna and I will make a video and then we’ll actually clear up everything.
First of all Red was for the pirates!? I completely get why the Miller’s kids were not allowed to have it. (i wouldn’t want to think about or see anything related to that either)
I loved that Cal started to want to stay there when HE WAS THE ONE WHO WANTED TO LEAVE THE WHOLE TIME.
Why was Toni mentioned so much and then she never showed up ever???? that was a bit weird.
I’m a bit upset with the end… It didn’t seem like it actually ended there was still a lot of questions I didn’t get answered but I still REALLY enjoyed the book and I understood why it ended that way because its dystopia and I shouldn’t be happy so much with the end thats not how its intended and its open ended. Plus I don’t think there was really a good way to end it all nice and answer everything this was the best way to do it.
Still don’t trust micah…
The baby was never born! That was really what I was upset about because I wanted the baby to be born…
I can’t believe they went to the Pines…
OKay.. I’lll stop this. A video may be posted from the okay project later! if we can finally find some time!
While I’m in line and WAITING at Leakycon (where I was in the wrong line for a really long time-I DON’T WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT) I figured I should talk about the last bit of California for reblogbookclub which I haven’t done, yet!
I’m so glad I didn’t see the author on The Colbert Report. THAT WAS NOT A HAPPY ENDING. Was it? I don’t think it is. Maybe it was.
That is pretty much how I felt about the entire book. It makes me uncomfortable in a way the books I usually read don’t. Not really.
In my dreams, Frida and Cal leave The Land and live in some nice new woods with a nice new trader to bring them baby supplies and medicine and everything is wonderful and then the world gets fixed and Communities are banned and no one ever heard from Micha again. The End!
So yeah. Good ending but didn’t like it. It’s sad that they lose their identities at the cost of being “safe”. They’re so comfortable, but even more isolated than they were in the woods. I’m glad Frida gets to bake, though. Glad about a lot of things, not others.
Glad Frida DIDN’T keep her trap shut because it’s probably for the best. And the thing that actually happens to the kids is so fucked up. POST APOCALYPTIC WORLD SOUNDS LIKE NO FUN AT ALLLLLL. WHY IS EVERYONE DOING AWFUL THINGS? !
MY FEELINGS ABOUT THIS BOOK ARE SO COMPLICATED. BLARGH! Stupid feelings.
So, how did everyone else feel about that very complicated ending.
Pipe breaks in another LA neighborhood in wake of rupture that spewed millions of gallons of water
This happened this week while I was finishing reading California (All done! Loved it!). A lot of what plagues the characters in the novel (deteriorating infrastructure in LA and the rest of the country) is not really that farfetched when you consider that massive breaks like the one that happened earlier this week to the water main on Sunset are happening more frequently (at least they seem to be — not a scientific statement of fact by moi). I can’t tell you how many times I’ll be driving down the freeway when I see just a chunk of the dividing rail or barrier just be in shambles or not there at all — marked off by orange cones and caution tape. For more than just a couple of days! There are certain areas of this city (and country) that are falling apart and in need of repair that we don’t have the resources to manage. I think that’s one of the reason I enjoyed Lepucki’s novel so much — there’s a certain fascination that I think myself and others have with wondering “what if” it all just goes to hell? Say there are more earthquakes, or even just another BIG ONE. What would you do? What would happen to the city? Would it bounce back? Would you adapt? It’s a fascinating thought experiment. (I, for one, do not think I would do especially well. My dog would fare even worse than I would, I’m afraid. My brother would probably do very well — he’s somewhat Cal-like.)
California by Edan Lepucki
Non-spoilery review after finishing the book yesterday:
My first reaction upon finishing this book was disappointment at how it ended. I said originally that it didn’t go where I thought it would, but after a day of reflecting on the plot I realized that I should have seen exactly where it was going. I was disappointed because part of the plot felt like it was building up to something that we never get to see (the “plan” everyone keeps talking about) but this story was not about plans, or rebellions. It was about people and emotions. The decision that Frida made toward the end of the book that caused things to end up how they did was the perfect example of this. I felt disappointed that things didn’t go how I wanted them to but I think in that situation the characters acted (and reacted) exactly as real human beings with real emotions would have. This book told a story about the good and the bad in relationships, between lovers and family and friends, and it just so happened to be set in a dystopian future. I was wrong to be disappointed that things didn’t end like every other book because California is not every other book, and it ended in a way that would not have worked for anyone else.
For me the novel was never fully dystopian until the final pages. I mean, camping out in a rugged-and-terrifyingly-sparse wastescape is pretty bad, but doable.
To me, the Pines were much more sinister than a seminar-student-run promised land (Land?).
There had been a lot of cringe-worthy moments thanks to Cal. See some highlights below:
He wouldn’t tell Frida any of this, not if keeping it a secret meant she would sleep soundly at night. She needed to rest for the baby. She would be happier not knowing, as long as he had her best interests in mind. As long as he kept demanding information from Micah and being smart, she’d be satisfied. She could trust him to make decisions for their family. (329)
"This is why I told you to stop," he replied. He was still touching her protectively, but his voice was cold as the dead. "You fucked it up." (348)
He knew Frida had good intentions, she only wanted to be honest, but it was hard not to just let go of her hand. She couldn’t keep her mouth shut to save her life—to save the life of their child. He’d thought they were in this together. But no. God, she could be such a selfish brat. (350)
Yes, everyone has relationship issues. But it’s such a blow to Frida (and such an undeserved boon to Cal) to move to a place like Pines where everything is so midcentury.
"Maybe I can become a pastry chef," Frida had said to Cal once.
"I don’t know about that," he’d replied. "This place is specifically designed for a certain kind of family. You know, the father at the office for long hours, the mother busy with the kids."
"What do those fathers do in those offices all day anyway?" Frida had asked. It was a mystery to her, how Pines worked. Meanwhile, all the mothers stayed home to bake cakes and whatever else mothers at Pines did. Women were expected to devote everything to raising a family. (384)
It was really upsetting to see that Frida, a woman who has proven that she can survive on her own and be a valuable working member of a community, must now drop her dreams simply because it “isn’t done” that way at Pines. I think the girl deserved a chance as a pastry chef.
I feel like the Pines wants every mom to feel like June Cleaver (top photo), but I really see Frida living a Betty Draper life of feeling shut up and pushed aside.
*Frida also really reminds me of April Wheeler. I hope for her sake that it goes much better for her than it did for April.
MAJOR THANKS to Reblog Book Club and Edan Lepucki for this round of book club!! It’s been super fun, and I’m looking forward to the other posts for this round :)
June Cleaver (top photo)
Betty Draper and Children (2nd row, left)
Betty, Baby Gene, and Don (2nd row, right)
Wheelers on a Good Day (3rd row, left)
April on a Bad Day (3rd row, right)