Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Battleborn by Claire Vaye Watkins

In Battleborn, Claire Vaye Watkins shares the West with readers.  This is not the West of glitz and glamour.  It is the West of the desert, of unrequited longings, of lives that just don't seem to go anywhere.  It is the West where people must be strong to survive, but survival doesn't always mean successful.

There are ten stories.  The locales differ, but all have ties to the West, especially the desert.  There is a story about two brothers who are caught up in the Gold Rush.  Another is about a man who manages a brothel in Nevada, and the boy who comes there every day while he waits to see if his friend who is lost in the desert is rescued.  Two sisters fight the residual effects of their mother's suicide, trying to carve out lives for themselves that rise above her despair.  Three friends visit Virginia City as they decide what their friendship means and if it will endure.

One of the most chilling stories is the first, called "Ghosts, Cowboys".  It tells the story of George Spahn, a farmer from Pennsylvania who came to California and bought a farm that was used by many of the famous Western movies as a movie set.  After it fell out of favor, Spahn let a group of hippies who followed a leader called Charles Manson move in.  The rest of the story is well known, the crimes the Manson family committed iconic features of the seventies.  Paul Watkins was Claire Vaye Watkins's biological father, although she was raised by an adopted family.  He was also one of Manson's main followers his role recruiting teenage girls to join the cult.  The knowledge of what he did influenced her life, as it would any of us.

Readers will long remember the stories in this novel.  Watkins writes fiercely, telling the story of those who dare to have the strength to survive and the mechanisms they employ to do so.  She also tells the stories of those who fall by the wayside, not able to overcome the blows of fate that come their way.  This book is recommended for readers who enjoy short stories, and those who are interested in fresh new voices that will be influential for many years to come.

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