Edan Lepucki’s California Nightmare


It’s no wonder dystopian and postapocalyptic fiction has experienced a renaissance in recent years: it provides escapism on so many levels. There’s nothing like reading a book that makes you feel grateful for the fact that you can take a hot shower and eat a hot meal, that it’s unnecessary for you to choose a faction, that Big Brother is not watching your every move, and that you’re not obligated to risk your life by participating in an annual Hunger Games death match. That’s right, fellow pre-apocalypse friends: Life is good!…For now.

All right, I’ll admit it: I’m a sucker for a book that immerses you in a good old-fashioned dystopian future—and the more realistic, unique, and twisted, the better. That’s why I’m so excited about Edan Lepucki’s debut novel, California—but that’s also why writing about it has left me feeling conflicted. It’s so deliciously filled with clever, creepy twists right up until the end that I don’t want to risk giving anything away. So please, bear with me while I keep my description short; you’ll just have to trust me that this book is going to be one cultural phenomenon you won’t want to be left out of. While reading it I found echoes of William Goldman’s Lord of the Flies, traces of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, even shades of George Orwell’s 1984—and if that doesn’t have you headed out the door to pick up a copy, then I just don’t know what to do with you.

California begins with the story of a young woman, Frida, and her husband, Cal, who are living completely off the grid after the collapse of modern American society as we know it—widespread economic and social destabilization, as well as a surfeit of environmental disasters across the country.

Although their isolated life is not easy, Frida and Cal are lucky enough to be able to rely on each other for support and comfort, and, thanks to their deep love and affection for one another, they manage to function surprisingly well under very trying circumstances—that is, until Frida begins to suspect she might be pregnant.

This frightening yet thrilling revelation throws their fragile, self-reliant existence into turmoil. Unsure of the wisdom of bringing a child into their lonely two-person world, Friday and Cal ultimately decide to venture away from the safety of their secluded home base in search of a mysterious (and potentially hostile) settlement that they have been led to believe is only a few days’ journey away.

And they do reach it, but the moment they do, their situation becomes infinitely more complex. While initially Cal and Frida are excited to have found a community of other survivors, they are soon forced to admit that sometimes you should be careful what you wish for. Along with an infusion of new faces, comforts, rules, and customs comes an added element of danger, and worrisome situations that are increasingly out of their control. Worst of all, Frida and Cal’s relationship, which has long been one of mutual respect and trust, is thrown out of balance—along with every other element of their once fairly predictable existence. But now that they’ve come this far, the question is, can they ever go home?

Are you planning to check out California?

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