This is an incredible book, one that pulled me in so deeply that I had trouble removing my brain from the Gold Fame Citrus headspace. California, along with the entire Southwest, is in such serious drought that most of its denizens have been evacuated, all but a few foolhardy, freedom-loving people. Water and food are the only real commodities, we quickly learn, as we follow Luz and her boyfriend Ray around "the starlet's" house, in which they are squatting. Luz wears Hermes scarves and designer dresses left behind by the starlet, while Ray digs latrines and scrounges up food for them. On a trip to a bonfire, they come across a toddler, a little girl whose people Luz finds incredibly untrustworthy. On an instinct and a whim, Ray and Luz take the girl home with them, and then decide to brave the many risks of fleeing the area for the unaffected parts of the country. To do so, they must pass through the Amargosa, a massive, ever-growing, ever-moving dune sea that is swallowing the Southwest.
This very brief summary does no justice to the writing, which is utterly unique and visceral. Flashes of Luz's past as an underage model haunt her, Ray's inadequacies as a man and caregiver threaten to destroy them all, and the Amargosa, silent and deadly and beautiful, looms over all. The world is different enough to be shocking, similar enough to be uncomfortably familiar. I finished this book on a plane across the country and found it difficult to look down upon the earth and see anything other than the world Watkins describes. She is young and her talent is formidable. I look forward to seeing what work she produces in the future.