Claire Vaye Watkins writes her way into the mythology of the American West, utterly reimagining it. Her characters orbit around the region's vast spaces, winning redemption despite - and often because of - the hardship and violence they endure. Winner of the 2012 Story Prize, and The New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award.
Not many people know Claire Vaye Watkins, but probably quite a few remember her father Paul Watkins, Charles Manson’s right-hand man. It’s the kind of brutal family history that some would be afraid to confront, and others would exploit for salacious gain in a lurid tell-all. But with Ghosts, Cowboys, the lead story from her debut collection, Battleborn, Watkins faces down the potentially gruesome marketing plan for her literary career with surprising maturity, and reveals a powerful new voice that deserves recognition ... Watkins’ stories crackle with tension in the desert heat ... The plots of each story are inventive and irresistible ... Most of the stories are soaked in a boozy haze, frenetically compelling, and somehow chockfull of memorable characters and scenes that linger for just the right amount of time. If Battleborn has a drawback, it’s that several of the stories feel slightly redundant...But Watkins’ voice is so fully formed and riveting that even doubling back on previous thematic territory is exciting. She may never get out of her father’s infamous shadow, but with this debut, she’s beginning a legacy all her own.
...[a] magnificent debut collection ... There is a great deal of comfort to be found in the stories of Battleborn because they are filled with heart and sorrow, loneliness and longing. There is a quiet wisdom to Watkins’ writing ... Though the stories are dark and suffused with thwarted desires, they also carry hope. No matter how suffocating the circumstances of each story, Watkins finds a way to offer the reader a breath of fresh air, a moment of possibility to hold onto, and it is those moments of possibility that sharpen Battleborn’s beauty.
The most notable feature of Battleborn, the first story collection by Claire Vaye Watkins, is its physical landscape, especially as it affects the people who stake their claims on its inhospitable terrain ... 'Ghosts, Cowboys,' which opens the collection, can be read as a literary fractal of the book over all. The historical sits comfortably alongside the contemporary, and the factual nicely supplements the fictional ... a dense and haunting story, told in the lyric and associative method of a poem ... Many of these tales share a self-consciousness about the nature of storytelling itself, featuring characters whose interest is in making a narrative out of what is otherwise a mystery ... Whether Watkins casts a backward glance...or a contemporaneous one...her vision is brutally unsentimental. Characters dig themselves into holes — literal or figurative — and are not explicitly rescued. If they survive it’s by the same means as they’ve so far endured: stubbornness, luck and a slim strand of hope ... Readers will share in the environs of the author and her characters, be taken into the hardship of a pitiless place and emerge on the other side — wiser, warier and weathered like the landscape.