California by Edan Lepucki (Little, Brown, July 8th)-Frida and Cal are about as happy as two people can be in a post-apocalyptic America that’s refreshingly devoid of zombies. This particular apocalypse was a protracted affair, consisting of more natural catastrophes, and as the country crumbled around them, Cal and Frida did their best to survive. Now they’ve settled, more or less, in the house of a family they once knew in the woods, far away from the dangers of Los Angeles, their former home. They cling to each other, and if the country is no longer strong, their love still is. However, Frida thinks she might be pregnant, and longs to seek out a populated place to give birth, one in which they’re not so alone. It just so happens, that not far away, there seems to be some kind of encampment, surrounded by tall spikes that make up a maze. Cal knows that, for his wife’s sake, he must make an effort to make contact with the people beyond the spikes, and they do, but a shocking revelation leads to uneasy alliance. Can Cal and Frida make a life among the people of The Land, and most importantly, once it is revealed that she is pregnant, will they even want to.
Yes, California takes place in a “post-apocalyptic” setting, but that’s just backdrop to the very real human drama that she presents so effectively. Frida has long held onto her past, imbuing everyday items (but ones that are treasures in the current landscape), with near mythical properties and still mourns the loss of her brother who was part of The Group, whose whimsical activities first meant to call attention to our rampant consumerism eventually took a turn into terrorist territory. Cal is devoted to Frida and will do anything to protect her and their unborn child, and eventually becomes enmeshed in the inner workings of The Land and its upper echelons. Cal’s a rather handy guy to have around in the given conditions, having attended a school given over to the tenets of green living and self-sufficiency, and Frida notices that they are separated more and more. However, the folks at The Land are a secretive bunch, and whisperings of Pirates have Cal worried.
First time novelist Edan Lepucki has created an absorbing and very realistic work in California, and while she manages to sustain an almost palpable feeling of menace throughout the book, it’s the relationship between Cal and Frida that is the real meat of the book. This is a look at a long term relationship, and the ties that bind, amidst the most trying of situations, and those in long term relationships will recognize so much of what Cal and Frida experience, that even two people that love each other so completely aren’t immune to distrust and petty concerns. Lepucki is a very insightful writer, and it’s her intimacy with Cal and Frida that give this book such immediacy. There are some terrifying moments and as the revelations, and secrets, unfold and Cal and Frida decide where their loyalties lie and their trust is tested, you’ll wonder if the ending can possibly satisfy. It does, but it thoroughly creeped me out, and it might not be what you expect. But that’s a good thing. This whole book was unexpected, and a delight to read. I can’t wait for what the author in store for us next.