Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The Golden State

The Golden State by Lydia Kiesling
Farrar, Straus and Giroux: 9/4/18
eBook review copy; 304 pages
ISBN-13: 9780374164836

The Golden State by Lydia Kiesling is a recommended debut novel about a young mother on the edge of a breakdown.

Daphne has a 16 month old daughter, Honey, a Turkish husband, Engin, who has been denied reentry to the USA by immigration officials, and a good university job at the Al-Ihsan Foundation for the Study of Islamic Societies and Civilizations in San Francisco when she suddenly decides to pack up a few things for her and Honey, flee San Francisco, and head to the high desert of Altavista, California. She inherited a mobile home there that she rarely visits, but her uncle has kept it in good repair. Stressed out by Engin's absence and haunted by the death of a student who was traveling on Institute funds, she thinks she needs an escape, a break to a quiet, simple life. Daphne is on the edge of a breakdown.

The novel follows 10 days in Daphne's life. Parenting alone with a 16 month old, trying to Skype with Engin to maintain their relationship, and filling the time during what feels like endless days, in an environment that is even more isolating for her is a dubious choice that may serve only to increase Daphne's isolation and loneliness. She meets a neighbor, Cindy, who is part of an anti-government, anti-immigration secessionist group, and meets a 92-year-old woman, Alice, who speaks a little Turkish and is visiting Altavista with a plan.

What worked was the raw emotion she captures in Daphne character. You can feel her honesty as she worries about Engin and Honey, and tries to be a good parent. She is struggling to find her way in her isolation. Mothers will recall many of Daphne's struggles with Honey and should be able to relate to the tantrums, the meal choices, nap time woes, and what can feel like endless boring routines involved in caring for a very young child who can't express themselves.

As for the writing - readers will have to be willing to overlook many long, run-on sentences with few commas. Kiesling's writing style may require some readers to pause and reread what they just read due to the aforementioned long run-on sentences. I did so several times, and, honestly, her writing style did begin to grate. The novel also begins to drag a bit as nothing much happens until very late in the narrative. The ending wasn't entirely successful for me.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

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