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.
A gripping and provocative debut novel by a stunning new talent, California imagines a frighteningly realistic near future, in which clashes between mankind’s dark nature and irrepressible resilience force us to question how far we will go to protect the ones we love. (Goodreads)
When I was lucky enough to have won an ARC of California by Edan Lepucki’s, I was unaware that within the striking cover lay a tale that not only portrayed a realistic, if not bleak window of the future, but also a cast of complex characters that even now I am unclear about their moral compass. This is a book that really challenges the way you think and what you would do if you were in the same situation as the lead characters Cal and Frida? How far would you go in order to protect your family, to give them a chance to have a good life in a world that has gone to hell?
The words “Dystopian Fantasy” conjure up a world that has fallen apart due to some cataclysmic event. This could be due to a pandemic or a zombie outbreak, but in the world that Lepucki has created it a series of events that has resulted in the downfall of the world we know. There is no zombie invasion nor a virus that is wiping out the population. This isn’t to say that there is not a threat to the people who are still alive. It is just that in this case it turns out to be human’s and their own human flaws. The need for power and the divide between the rich and the poor is the powder keg that this new world order is balanced on.
This is truly a character piece and I found myself heavily invested in the survival of Cal and Frida, the main characters in this book. Through the course of the book, Lepucki puts their relationship under the microscope. They undergo so many different challenges, from what is supposed to be a joyous occasion of expecting a baby, to trying to integrate into a community that has its own secrets. As Cal and Frida are trying to integrate into the community, named The Land, you get a sense of foreboding. That behind the curtain, the real show is going on. The cultivating of the land and the rebuilding of society just seems to be a smokescreen for something else, yet Lepucki only gives you small breadcrumbs throughout that hints on the bigger picture. By the end of the book there was far from the hopeful end that I wanted. This was mainly due to what I had learned about Cal and how he deals with problems.
Cal and Frida’s relationship is the real driving force of the book. Watching how the normally mundane issues couples face is multiplied exponentially due to the strain of this new world order is fascinating to read. You can see both of their points of view. Frida wants to give their child a chance at life in this new community, but Cal has trust issues, especially when it is revealed who is the puppet master of this community. The longer they are staying with these people, you see their views morph till they have switched views.
However in the case of Cal, he reverts to that hopeful dreamer he once was when he attended one of the few college’s still open at the time. When he finds the leaders true intentions, he is driven to try and change their minds on their plan. This need to try and get them to see that there are alternatives is commendable, but I couldn’t help feeling that this would be in vain and where he has taken his family may have put them in further danger.
As for Frida, she seems to live her life with a very narrow view. She looks for the best in everyone and believes that they will do what is right. She also wants everyone to like and accept her into their confidence. It seems that her time living in relative isolation from others makes her slightly reckless with keeping her pregnancy secret.
This is a deep and thought provoking book that really sucked me into the story. Reading this book, I began to think about what lengths I would go in order to protect the ones I love. Yes, there are no big set pieces with violent conflicts, but that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t sitting on the edge of my seat. For a debut novel, Lepucki has knocked it out of the park and I can’t wait to see what she will come up with next.