Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Audiobook Review: California by Edan Lepucki

From Goodreads:
The world Cal and Frida have always known is gone, and they've left the crumbling city of Los Angeles far behind them. They now live in a shack in the wilderness, working side-by-side to make their days tolerable despite the isolation and hardships they face. Consumed by fear of the future and mourning for a past they can't reclaim, they seek comfort and solace in one other. But the tentative existence they've built for themselves is thrown into doubt when Frida finds out she's pregnant. 

Terrified of the unknown but unsure of their ability to raise a child alone, Cal and Frida set out for the nearest settlement, a guarded and paranoid community with dark secrets. These people can offer them security, but Cal and Frida soon realize this community poses its own dangers. In this unfamiliar world, where everything and everyone can be perceived as a threat, the couple must quickly decide whom to trust.
Like Station Eleven, I'd list this as a more literary take on the post-apocalyptic nightmare vision of America.  We're not given cannibals or mutated monsters, but we do get some very dark interpretations of our future.  What sets this novel apart is the slow build of suspense and the mundane quality of evil as Cal and Frida face it.  Lepucki does a good job of providing the reader with a believable downfall of civilization on earth as a gradual descent brought on by several issues - climate change, a growing divide between the wealthy and the poor, and the dissolution of government services in favor of private sector funding of services for those who can afford it.  While I'm not sure that all aspects of the novel itself were believable, I appreciated reading what seemed to be a realistic portrayal of how society could devolve to the state we find it in in this book.

My only issues were with characterization.  I felt like there were times when both Frida and Cal were inconsistent with their attitudes and actions.  For huge portions of the book I just wanted them to sit down and talk for like five seconds instead of going off of random assumptions they seems to make about what the other is thinking.  You'd think after living together in the wilderness alone for several years they'd have developed some kind of communication system that works for them.  Especially if they are as passionately in love as we are supposed to believe they are.

Entertainment Value
Despite having some issues with the characters, I loved the listening experience.  It should be pointed out that this is definitely not something I'd describe as a typical action-based post-apocalypse.  It's very much set in the heads of Cal and Frida and the suspense and intrigue elements unfold slowly.  As a fan of a slow build, I had no problems with this and appreciated that the book was more psychological than action-packed.

Like many other reviewers, I was a bit perplexed by the end.  While it's somewhat ambiguous, and, I believe, ultimately in keeping with Cal and Frida as characters, I felt a bit let down.  I had expected the slow build to lead to something a bit more than it ever really amounted to.

No issues here.  The narrator does a great job with mild changes in inflection when differentiating between character dialogue - enough that you can tell characters apart but not so much that it's distracting.  She's easy to listen to and does a fine job of narrating.

This is definitely written for those who appreciate a more character-driven, literary approach to post-apocalypse as opposed to action or horror.  While there is some violence (including sexual violence, but taking place "off screen") the book is mostly about the sinister nature of cults of personality and the ways that desperate people can be easily led and manipulated.  I'd recommend it to those who enjoyed Station Eleven, but I'd also be sure to note that it's populated by characters who can be frustrating and unlikable.

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