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Book Review: Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins (4/5)

9 Oct

I met Watkins over a year ago when I went to the Midwest Literary Walk and heard her speak. The book sounded interesting, like a better form of California, and I bought a copy. Unfortunately, it took me so long to get to it but I’m glad I finally did.

Cover image via Goodreads

Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins

Summary from Goodreads:

In a parched southern California of the near future, Luz, once the poster child for the country’s conservation movement, and Ray, an army deserter turned surfer, are squatting in a starlet’s abandoned mansion. Most “Mojavs,” prevented by armed vigilantes from freely crossing borders to lusher regions, have allowed themselves to be evacuated to encampments in the east. Holdouts like Ray and Luz subsist on rationed cola and water, and whatever they can loot, scavenge, and improvise.

For the moment, the couple’s fragile love, which somehow blooms in this arid place, seems enough. But when they cross paths with a mysterious child, the thirst for a better future begins.

I was pretty spot on by thinking this would be a better version of California. It was similar at the beginning, talking about a futuristic American West that descended into chaos due to an environmental crisis. I thought this book had more to it. The introduction of a child, Ig, into Ray and Luz’s lives was a great addition. I liked the bit of background we got about these two and their path forward in life. I thought it was interesting that the plot shifted to the Amargosa but Levi and his cult of followers were really interesting and it got into Watkins’ life a bit as well. Her father was a member of Charles Manson’s Family but eventually testified against Manson and left the group. I found it interesting that Watkins would choose to talk about this topic in her book but she made it seem very natural for Luz to join the group and I wondered if this was a way for her to explore what could bring her late father into such a group.

My inscription from Watkins.

I found Ray and Luz very realistic. When there’s not much to do, you either make things to do or lay around. When you think someone is being mistreated, you either act or do nothing. When you think someone is dead, you let go or hold on. They were opposites of each other in all of these ways yet they continued to come together and be good for each other. I thought it was very real to have them still so attracted to each other.

Ray was my favorite of the two. He was more like myself in the ways he reacted to the situations he found himself in. He was resourceful and determined and I admired his loyalty more than anything else. He’s the kind of guy I would want to have with me if I was living in a water-deprived world like Luz found herself.

There wasn’t much in this book that I could relate to. The conditions they lived in were very harsh and the decisions they had to make were very removed from the reality of the modern world I live in. Though, being unrelatable didn’t make me like this book any less. It was very escapist and a fun story.

Me and Claire Vaye Watkins

The end of the book with Levi was most interesting to me. I never would have expected the book to take a turn toward cults when I started it. Having Ray convincing Luz that she was being manipulated was hard to read about but I was rooting for Ray the whole time. Knowing what I did about Watkins’ family, I found it even more engaging and wondered how much was drawn from her father’s story.

I was bothered by Ray and Luz taking Ig at first. I was mad to think they could just take a child, even if that child seemed to be mistreated and not cared for properly. I wondered if she was being cared for by a reckless older brother for the day when there was a proper, caring mother waiting for her girl to return home. I never stopped thinking that and at the end, I wondered if Ig was better off having been taken or not.


Survival was a key theme in this book. There were many things the characters did to survive and they had to give up parts of themselves and their identities to survive. Ray gave up his driver’s license and his ties to the military. Luz gave up her comforts and Ig. It’s up to the reader to decide if it was worth it. I’m inclined to say some of it was, but other parts were not worth losing.

Writer’s Takeaway: Watkins created a terrifying future because it’s so easy to see something like this happening. Climate change has started to affect our world in startling ways. If not checked, could we see a growing desert in the southwest that slowly moves to overtake other parts of the country? Would animals really evolve to survive so quickly? Speculative fiction is so scary because it’s so eerily similar to our world and we can see it coming to pass. I feel Watkins did a great job of moving our world to a terrifyingly realistic crisis.

A fun read though I thought the plot was just a bit wandering. Four out of Five stars.

This book fulfills the ‘Future’ time period for the When Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

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