& Review: California by Edan Lepucki

California by Edan Lepucki

California by Edan Lepucki. Sci-Fi/Fantasy. Publisher: Little, Brown and Company

What have you done in the name of containment, and where does it stop?”

The Book Itself: It’s a very striking cover: the trees all topsy-turvy, purposefully disorienting, and the image wraps around the entire book jacket, in beautiful greens and grays.

The world Cal and Frida have always known is gone, and they’ve left the crumbling city of Los Angeles far behind them. They now live in a shack in the wilderness, working side-by-side to make their days tolerable despite the isolation and hardships they face. Consumed by fear of the future and mourning for a past they can’t reclaim, they seek comfort and solace in one other. But the tentative existence they’ve built for themselves is thrown into doubt when Frida finds out she’s pregnant. Terrified of the unknown but unsure of their ability to raise a child alone, Cal and Frida set out for the nearest settlement, a guarded and paranoid community with dark secrets. These people can offer them security, but Cal and Frida soon realize this community poses its own dangers. In this unfamiliar world, where everything and everyone can be perceived as a threat, the couple must quickly decide whom to trust.”

You guys…it’s my hot button word: dystopian!! I love me some dystopians.

On a quick side note, this is the book Stephen Colbert mentioned in his bit about Amazon’s tiff with Hachette. Plus, I’ve been seeing it on the Facebook newsfeed of a local bookstore. So, at least to me, this one has already gotten quite a bit of buzz.

Which is, for the most part, deserved. You get worried as the story opens, that Cal and Frida are going to bore you for the rest of the book with the little tasks they do every day: foraging for mushrooms, attempting to set snares for game, harvesting from their little garden, etc. Luckily, the stakes ramp up pretty quickly, and it’s not long before we get a change of scenery. So it’s well-paced.

They hear of mysterious structures called The Spikes, which (obviously) had to be man-made, and which (probably) indicate a settlement not to far from their current shack. After a tragedy involving their nearest and only neighbors, and Frida’s suspicion that she is pregnant, Cal and Frida set out to these Spikes in search of more settlers like themselves.

There is also a sprinkled in backstory of Frida’s brother, killed during a radical movement inspired by the world falling apart several years ago, and the alternative college both he and Cal attended before the world really went to crap.

It gets surprisingly domestic and trivially annoying: most of what you get from the community setting is Cal being annoyed with Frida about one little thing and her getting annoyed at him for another, separate minor infraction. There are some Big Mysteries in this isolated community that have sinister roots. Why are there no children in the community? What will happen when Frida starts to show/people find out she is pregnant? Will this close-knit group of off-the-grid-ers welcome Cal and Frida into the community?

Of course I’m not going to tell you the answer to those questions! But some prove more quietly horrifying than others.

I do take issue with the end. It’s rushed. This book seems to take its time with everything else, and then after a whirlwind of action and intrigue right at the end there….we jump to 8 months in the future. A chilling plan revealed by the Spikes’ leader never comes to fruition, even though it could actually spell huge trouble, generating huge amounts of unrest and turmoil not only in the land of the Spikes, but places outside of it as well….just dies. Nothing happens. You expect it to end the book on a big note, and it just…goes away. Why?? It could’ve been a big thing! A HUGE thing. A thing that Cal and Friday kinda sorta find themselves smack in the middle of after the books jump to the future. But nope…is Lepucki opening up California to a sequel? I hope not, as the book stands just fine on its own, and there’s not a whole lot she hasn’t spelled out for the characters except for that one little, HUGE PLAN AT THE END THERE. It kind of ends where it should maybe begin…or the jump itself just shouldn’t have been included, making me think I missed a huge chunk of story.

(There are also Lots of Capital Lettered Words. So much so that it feels like they’re sprinkled in every other sentence. The Land, the Spikes, Morning Labor, Communities, the Group (I mean really, you couldn’t think of a better name for an organization??), the Pines, the Forms. It gets a little too simplistic and annoying).

It is a good book. A solid, almost domestic dystopian, not concerned so much with the Big Picture of the apocalypse and harrowing moments of action for its characters, but on the human relationships we have when things get rough.

My Grade: B


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