Amidst California's wildfires, high speed rail, housing crises, unprecedented wealth and underlying decay, José Vadi explores the state through many lenses: an aging obsessed skateboarder; a self-appointed dive bar DJ; a laid-off San Francisco tech worker turned re-hired contractor; a grandson of Mexican farmworkers pursuing the crops they tilled.
Often taking the form of walkabouts or road trips to places both familiar and forgotten, Vadi’s writing impressively charts his own family’s story while also offering a larger examination of what we think we know about California, a state that’s been endlessly mythologized but rarely explored with such searing passion and genuine depth. Vadi vacillates between reverence and rage in writing of his grandfather in the collection’s titular essay, as he details the ongoing plight of migrant farm workers. Presented as a blend of travelogue and historical commentary, the result is an enlightening, if tragic, rumination on how we choose to memorialize the past ... Though his focus often feels bleak in nature, Vadi’s skills as a poet provide a lyrical sheen that serves to temper his anguish with the wide-eyed wonder of one still fully enamored with California’s (albeit disappearing) splendor ... many lines in Inter State...manage to astutely evoke visceral memories of a certain time and place without falling prey to the false comfort of nostalgia. A must-read for all who wish to truly understand what it now means to be a Californian, the lasting triumph of Vadi’s collection is just how clearly it maps the endless concentric circles that together define what it means to love a place and loathe it all at once.
What distinguishes this tentative newcomer on the West Coast essayist scene? For one, a fresh approach: Vadi’s deepest purpose is to understand and retrace the footsteps of his abuelo, who picked vegetables up and down the Central Valley. He layers this important quest with a tart mixture of originality and devotion, as well as his own lens as an avid urban skateboarder. And finally, Inter State deserves attention for the way it pits Southern California against the Bay—which is always fun ... Sure, some of the pieces ramble on and could have lost a few pounds. And some of Vadi’s paranoia and anxiety can grate ... all in all, this is a fast, slim, successful addition to the canon of books that get at something essential about a maddening, sprawling, epic state.
Part love letter, part indictment, this moving debut essay collection from Vadi captures the changing landscape of California ... deeply felt prose ... many of his references will land best for readers familiar with San Francisco and Los Angeles. But even those who have never stepped foot in California will recognize Vadi’s anguish and frustration in watching the place change. The provocative observations will please essay fans.