California by Edan Lepucki

First off, California is not a fantasy novel per se, and yet this tale of survival can be placed firmly in a dystopic near future. Frida and Cal have left the remnants of Los Angeles to find a safe haven in the wilderness as the city further disintegrates. This is a grim future where money has no real value and yet you cannot join the safety of a community unless you have a lot. Can you imagine a life in a city without access to fresh/clean water, with no gas or electricity because of rising costs? We are told these are still available in the exclusive communities, but if that’s too hard to imagine then maybe consider the fact that you wouldn’t be able to access the internet!

The book is very intelligently written, spliced between the present Cal and Frida are living in and yet also segueing into the past showing how the couple came to be in the Wilderness. We discover how Cal and Frida met through her brother Micah. Micah is a pivotal, charismatic character and yet when I read the parts of the book he appears in, he never seemed like a person you would want to meet.

Out of the couple Cal is the stoic practical family man who is trying to keep Frida safe from the present, the future and the past. Luckily he has knowledge of how to cultivate earth to grow food for them both. Frida on the other hand is a dreamer and yet keeps secrets from Cal. They have in my mind a more “traditional” relationship where Frida tends the home and Cal is the provider.

California is a dark and atmospheric book and builds a lot of tension between its pages. Especially when Cal and Frida realise they are not as alone as they thought they were, eventually making their way to The Land. The people who live in The Land believe in containment and the second half of California focuses on whether Cal and Frida will be accepted on The Land.

Is company a good or bad thing if people are hiding their pasts from you? Containment can go either way, keeping people out or keeping the people who are already there in. Cal and Frida need to decide if this is where they want to stay as their relationship is stretched and tested, where it was once strong it weakens from their interactions with so many others.

Is California a place or a state of mind? The secrets and lies we tell to keep people safe, can also cause the most harm, how can you trust people if they are omitting the truth or is truth only as valid as the person speaking it? There is a certain male arrogance running throughout California which can be summed up with this quote from Cal “She would be happier not knowing, as long as he had her best interests in mind”. Frida in her role of wife has the following thought “She could trust him to make decisions for their family”. I found Cal and Frida’s interactions really interesting - how their power struggles affect not only themselves but the friendships they have with others.

I found California a really interesting story with lots of twists and turns that never became boring. The characters are well constructed and although you may not empathise with some of the main characters you will understand the lengths people will go to protect their families as well as to simply survive.

9/10 I found California a really interesting story, very intelligently written.

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