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The Bottom Line: 'Gold Fame Citrus' By Claire Vaye Watkins | The Huffington Post

The Bottom Line: 'Gold Fame Citrus' By Claire Vaye Watkins | The Huffington Post EDITION US عربي (Arabi) Australia Brasil Canada Deutschland España France Ελλάδα (Greece) India Italia 日本 (Japan) 한국 (Korea) Maghreb México Québec (En Francais) South Africa United Kingdom United States NEWS WorldPost Highline Science Education Weird News Business TestKitchen Tech College Media POLITICS Pollster Election Results Eat the Press HuffPost Hill Candidate Confessional So That Happened ENTERTAINMENT Sports Comedy Celebrity Books Entertainment TV Arts + Culture WELLNESS Healthy Living Travel Style Taste Home Weddings Divorce Sleep WHAT'S WORKING Impact Green Good News Global Health VOICES Black Voices Latino Voices Women Fifty Religion Queer Voices Parents Teen College VIDEO ALL SECTIONS Arts + Culture Black Voices Books Business Candidate Confessional Celebrity College Comedy Crime Divorce Dolce Vita Eat the Press Education Election Results Entertainment Fifty Good News Green Healthy Living Highline Home Horoscopes HuffPost Data HuffPost Hill Impact Latino Voices Media Outspeak Parents Politics Pollster Queer Voices Religion Science Small Business So That Happened Sports Style Taste Tech Teen TestKitchen Travel TV Weddings Weird News Women WorldPost FEATURED Hawaii OWN Quiet Revolution Talk to Me Don't Stress the Mess Endeavor Fearless Dreamers Generation Now Inspiration Generation Paving the Way The Power Of Humanity Sleep + Wellness What's Working: Purpose + Profit What's Working: Small Businesses ARTS & CULTURE The Bottom Line: 'Gold Fame Citrus' By Claire Vaye Watkins This new dystopian novel explores a drought-addled America. 09/22/2015 10:48 am ET Maddie Crum Culture Writer, The Huffington Post Riverhead Rumbling slow like a deadly tidal wave, a dry expanse of earth expands each day, conquering the once-fertile land it encounters. This is what an almost-apocalypse looks like through the eyes of Claire Vaye Watkins: no bombs or asteroids, but crawling desertification rendering America’s West uninhabitable. The growing wasteland is personified as a sort of militia, referred to by Watkins and her characters as the Amargosa Dune Sea. That uninhabitable West is the setting of Gold Fame Citrus, Watkins’ anticipated first novel, named after the myriad reasons greedy citizens were once drawn to California. Joke’s on them, she seems to say. Her story begins in a starlet's house, the starlet long ago replaced by a couple of vagrants. Luz Dunn is a former model, the fallen poster child for a mission to preserve California’s thirsty soil. She tries on the starlet’s clothes helplessly, sauntering around the mansion, wishing she had a pet to keep her company. Instead she has Ray, who’s tough in spite of nightmares about his military days. They try to stay busy, and on a mission to gather food they stumble on a task that’ll surely help them bide their time: a young girl, pre-verbal due to her age or a learning disability, or both. Enamored with her blunt, earthy nature, Luz and Ray take the kid (who they temporarily call “Ig”) from her inattentive people -- a gang of young wanderers, surely too aloof to be her parents. Worried they’ll get caught, and hoping for a better, tree-filled life for Ig, they set off, thanks to an old housemate willing to offer a gas-filled car. A few miscalculations land them on empty near the encroaching, deadly dune sea. Dehydrated and delirious, Ray looks for help. There, their path forks into two. When Luz recovers, she finds herself and Ig in a stationary bus, being tended to by a supple, topless woman, who, implausibly, brings them fruit. Luz savors the citrusy slices -- she’s been missing out on luxuries like fruit for so long. She soon learns that Levi, the unofficial leader of a small band of nomads, is responsible for providing it, along with his crew: Cody, a wiz at cultivating vegetation, Jimmer, a wise, guru-type, and the Girls, a gaggle of beautiful young women devoted to the tiny society’s lifestyle. Grieving from the loss of Ray, Luz quickly adopts their mantra: that the dune sea curates, allowing certain people to live along with it, wiping out the rest. Watkins is at her best here, characterizing the easy slide from isolation to the open arms of an accepting, if ultimately wayward, community. She makes Luz’s disorientation, her susceptibility to believing false information, relatable. Levi and his crew inflate her ego, only to knock it back down themselves. Soon, she’s convinced of a conspiracy theory that the deadly nature of the dune sea is a myth constructed so nuclear scientists in the East can deploy weapons, rather than shelling out costly sums to store them. Watkins is well-acquainted with spirituality, cultlike and not, through research (she cites Harold Bloom’s The American Religion and Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven in her acknowledgements), and also through familial experience. Her father, characterized by family friends as a benevolent acid-head from the Haight