Watkins' vision is profoundly terrifying. It's a novel that's effective precisely because it's so realistic — while Watkins' image of the future is undeniably dire, there's nothing about it that sounds implausible ... The prose in Gold Fame Citrus is stunningly beautiful, even when — especially when — Watkins is describing the badlands that Southern California has become ... It's an urgent, frequently merciless book, as unrelenting as it is brilliant. Watkins forces us to confront things we'd probably rather ignore, but because we're human, we can't.
Watkins is a master of tantalizing details, the unspoken tensions and disappointments of these lovers scraping around in the arid opulence of scorpion-infested bathrooms and empty swimming pools ... But the real genius of Gold Fame Citrus is its speculation about the isolated colonies that might survive in this aboveground hell. How might laggards, wanderers, fanatics and thieves coalesce? Once civilization decamps to the relatively moist East Coast? Watkins conjures the mythologies and mores that might sprout in such infertile soil.
...one of the most interesting aspects of Watkins’s novel is the way the mode of apocalypse she’s chosen seems to mirror some of the darker aspects of celebrity ... The plot that Watkins comes up with — a love triangle, a seemingly idyllic community with a creepy secret — does not always match the originality of her prose ... But if this book is sometimes frustrating, it’s also fascinating. A great pleasure of the book is Watkins’s fearlessness, particularly in giving her characters free rein to be themselves.
Watkins writes vividly and hypnotically about what happens to landscapes, bodies and minds when deprived of sustaining liquid. The novel may remind some readers of Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Water Knife in its timeliness, but Watkins’ objectives are different, not tied to realistic physics and the conventions of the science fiction thriller. Her novel is less a cautionary tale than an autopsy of a dream gone bad ... Watkins never loses sight of Ray and Luz’s tender humanity, rendering their predicament with an abundance of empathy, insight and wit, all of which is what makes Gold Fame Citrus a winner.
Their journey, and what awaits them there, is both nail-biting and digressive, at times lushly overwritten, at times wryly incisive, but always powerful. There are sections told in chorus or set out as a play for voices, freezing the action at dramatic moments; quasi-documentary reportage as well as a fantastical primer to the 'neo-fauna' of the dune sea. The whole is crammed with ideas that don’t entirely cohere; but one of the best things about the book is the way Vaye Watkins harnesses the real-life weirdness of the west to intense, hallucinatory effect ... Vaye Watkins’ portrait of Levi, the leader of the sand dune colony, is a tour de force: chilling, beguiling, paranoid, convincing and pathetic by turns.
Watkins is the author of a much-praised collection of stories, Battleborn, and the best stories in that collection radiated with an apocalyptic shimmer and ghost-town obsession. Gold Fame Citrus reads less like a departure from these concerns than an intensification of them ... the novel seems to find its surest footing and most gripping pace when Ray’s narration crashes up alongside [Luz's], when we’re liberated from Luz’s cordoned-off psyche and become critical observers of, rather than inhabitors of, her self-protective distance ... To read Watkins’s novel against this current climatological landscape is a bracing, brutal experience. Intriguingly, Gold Fame Citrus seldom expresses a sense of nostalgia or elegy for a lost California — it’s a book too wised-up for that, plunging instead into a brave and bitter nihilism that pushes back against thoughts of easy redemption.
When Luz and Ray strike out, Watkins' world opens, becomes more shattering, more starkly beautiful, exponentially more deadly. Gold Fame Citrus is a dreamy story with a mystical streak and a core of juvenile irresponsibility that does not go unpunished. But Watkins' vision — not just of a world broken by ecological disaster, but of the sorts of people who would thrive in that world — is mercilessly sharp. She's got a knife eye for details, a vicious talent for cutting to the throbbing vein of animal strangeness that scratches inside all of us.
“Watkin’s narrative is mythic and speculative, its sediment forming and re-forming in lists, treatises, and reports. The writing, with its tough sentimentality, is reminiscent of Denis Johnson’s, but Watkins has a style of mordant observation all her own.”
...[an] extraordinary debut novel ... The novel is filled with seekers: people with a thirst not just for water, but also for purpose and faith. In that sense, Gold Fame Citrus, is finally a religious story, a particularly American one—giving voice to the pioneer's faith in self-invention.
Watkins has crafted a powerful, innovative and hallucinatory novel from a bleak yet all-too-real vision. Her landscapes feel primordial and postapocalyptic. Each is brilliantly mapped ... The novel bursts with grand ideas and original scenarios. However, it becomes distinctly uninvolving every time Watkins deviates from Ray and Luz to give case studies of secondary characters, or to meditate upon matters geological, historical and ecological. More critically, it is during these interludes that Watkins’ fluid prose turns into an unregulated torrent.
Watkins' prose sizzles, her pen morphing sentences into glimmering new arrangements. While surrealist fiction is often striking for the fantastical scenery it conjures, Gold Fame Citrus haunted me with its references to objects I now take for granted ... Just as she turns a familiar landscape into a mysterious and foreboding geography, Watkins breathes new life into words we thought we knew well. Gold Fame Citrus will hypnotize you like a dream, and make you want to take a big swig of the water we have left.
Gold Fame Citrus is unique because of Watkins’ bracing language, her gift for creating a world entire, from its landscape to its pop culture, and her masterful control of tone: Luz’s numb outlook and the narrator’s wry, clinical vision of the West offer a convincing worldview ... Watkins is a literary geologist, able to describe all the West’s layers of earth and history, and tell us a compelling story about what they mean.
While the idea of a bone-dry California may seem familiar, the reality, in Watkins’s fiercely talented hands, is far harsher ... Where many futuristic novels settle for the menace of the unknown, only hinting at the cataclysms that led to whatever grim circumstances they describe, Gold Fame Citrus is intimate with the history of disaster. As in her previous short-story collection,Battleborn, Watkins traces the past onto her landscape and her characters with permanent ink ... Watkins’s imagination and ingenuity are astounding. But at times her cup runneth over. Even the smallest details merit inventive descriptions, which can distract from the larger story she’s telling.
It sounds like science fiction, but this splendid debut novel is really a reinvigorated version of the classic tales of settlement on the American frontier ... Gold Fame Citrus is the first of the recent outbreak to fully imagine the natural world in the wake of catastrophe. Ms. Watkins potently evokes the nightmarish and the spectacular.
This is fascinating terrain, particularly given Watkins' backstory, but in execution, it's almost unbearably frustrating ... Watkins' seeming inability to imagine any agency for her protagonist adds nothing to the view that a victim is a victim, and a Manson girl a lost cause. Worse still, it makes for boring reading, such that the jumps into Ray's head — he's off on a more typical hero's journey, complete with a passage through the underworld — offer breaths of fresh air ... Watkins remains a master of the expressionistic landscape; in some of the book's best passages, Luz and Ray cross wasted yucca fields, crystalline salt flats, and hellish mine tailings in their car.
Watkins has been praised for evocative landscapes and environmentalist themes, but she can get bogged down in John Muir-style cataloging of flora and fauna. She’s more gifted at writing characters like Ig, a defenseless child whose everyday thirst is devastating. Watkins knows that if you want to save the world, you first have to make readers care about saving the humans.
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 ... Her first novel is worth reading, if only to get lost along with them, picking up distinctly American nuggets of wisdom and faux-wisdom along the way.
Watkins is not a sentimental writer, but she is sometimes a self-indulgent one. Some chapters read like polished writing exercises slotted into the book. Some descriptions feel gratuitously brutal ... While Watkins has an undeniably original voice that’s as hard-edged as the desert Los Angeles that anchors this first novel, her characters have experiences but don’t change much; they make fun of everything but believe in nothing.
For someone who understands Californians’ psyches so deeply, Watkins is also remarkably attuned to the resentment outsiders often feel toward residents. Note the schadenfreude with which Californian refugees are treated in Gold Fame Citrus—schoolyard chants making fun of the 'Mojavs,' signs reading, 'Mojavs Not Welcome. No Work for Mojavs. Mojavs Keep Out' ... The promises are false more often than not, but they’re what make California California, and Gold Fame Citrus shows us why we’ll keep believing in them even when the world as we know it starts to end.
[Watkins's] story toys with supernatural explanations for the survival of outcasts living in the super-dune’s shadow, but ultimately rejects them. Rather than the wild imaginings that members of SF’s community of writers have trained themselves to give voice to, and have nourished by reading the work of fellow imaginers, Watkins’s depictions are grounded in an almost fatalistic view of our current situation ... All the strength and utility of Gold Fame Citrus come from the unrelentingness of its author’s well-schooled gaze. But that gaze encompasses more than tragedy, more than the chaos of civilization’s gradual collapse. It also shares with us the feverish glow of a world lit only by fugitives’ fires, the hallucinatory shimmer surrounding each individual grain of pulverized stone, each tiny tributary to an overwhelming flood of uncontrollable forces: heat, wind, dreams.
Watkins's absolutely wonderful prose hypnotizes and transfixes the reader from the novel's onset. She works like a magician throughout, both in the form of an entertainer devoted to trickery and sleight of hand, and in the more archaic sense of the word, a figure more akin to a sorcerer, casting spells, making the impossible possible ... The landscape, surreal and ostensibly implausible, yet also so familiar, similarly straddles this line of relatable and foreign, a lush and populated world of Watkins's own invention, and yet distinctly our world as well, the world we know and love and often hate too, the world that beckons us like a siren, but also instills fear due to its patches of utter hostility.
Watkins is a magnificent writer about the ways the west offers freedom and oppression in equal measure ... The best parts of Gold Fame Citrus explore how the apocalypse has cranked up the spiritual absurdity ... But Gold Fame Citrus ultimately narrows its scope, its brainy apocalyptic adventure story fading into a conventional tale about Luz's conflicted romantic affections.