California By Edan Lepucki

Folks, I hate to say it, but this one was a big, lukewarm shrug for me. My first draft of this review was just a blank page with a *sigh* at the bottom of it. It really took me by surprise too. There was a lot of good buzz around this book around it’s release date and I was actually pretty excited for it, but I just found it kind of slow and dreary and boring.

I want you all to know, right off the bat, that this novel isn’t exactly bad (despite the kicking I’m about to give it). There’s some stuff that I really liked: the depiction of a long-term relationship in an odd setting felt really authentic to me, the two people in that relationship were well-fleshed out and, mostly, consistent, and the writing was competent and unobtrusive.

But honestly folks? I just could not give a shit about it, the whole time I was reading it. It’s one of the sleepiest, least engaging dystopian novels that I’ve ever read. As an example, and this is absolutely true, I was reading it last night and I think I was fifteen pages from the end, and instead of pushing through I just put it down and went to sleep. It’s not that I thought I’d figured out the end, it’s that I didn’t care at all what the end would be. There was no tension, no interest, no fear for our protagonists. Even though the danger to them was real, it was never acute enough for me to actually be worried for them. They always seemed somewhat insulated from threats, removed from them by a degree or two, and most of the things that the novel appeared to be leveraging for tension just felt flat and empty to me. Not to mention that there was no resolution to the conflict at all (which may have been intentional and in life there is no resolution and blah blah blah). No real questions were answered, no loose ends tied up, no problems solved. They end the novel (spoilers I guess?) the same way they started it, the same way that they spent most of it: isolated, but in a different sort of way, and relatively safe.

This is a hard one for me to decide on, recommendation-wise. I know it’s supposed to be a blend of dystopian and literary, and if you’re anything like me that probably sounds delightful, but I don’t think it succeeds at either enough to be worth the read. I feel kind of shitty for writing that, I’ve never written anything that rivals, or comes even close to rivalling, this novel, but I can’t help the way I feel about it. So I guess I’m giving this novel a very soft, somewhat embarrassed, entirely un-hateful pass. It wasn’t offensive, and she’s a skilled writer with a bright future ahead of her, but there just wasn’t enough there, there.

Alright, that’s probably enough equivocations for one evening.

Pleasant dreams my lovelies,

VBR

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