California by Edan Lepucki (2014)


L: 3.5/10

M: 3/10

Analysis from a stripped screw:

California is a book worthy of two reviews. The first half continuously hints of something great just over the horizon. Clues are picked up, and every chapter ends with a tiny cliffhanger that makes you wonder what path these characters will go down. Once the path is explored, great potential is left untraveled, and things are wrapped up in an unrewarding way.

The few details that can be picked up about the failing planet in which this story takes place hints that nature really gets pissed off someplace in the near future. This leads our two main characters, Cal and Frida, to leave the major city of L.A. in search of… the woods? Why not, nothing really matters at this point, I guess. The couple survives almost effortlessly living in a shack they stumble upon, and then gradually upgrading their living situation throughout the story. An undead relative’s rise to power in a nearby city (how convenient) propels the story to its endpoint, that never really tells a story in its conclusion.

The story is told in an interesting way, where narration takes turns from the two main characters. The story doesn’t have to match up when this is done correctly. Here, the two protagonists don’t even seem to know who each other are. The cluelessness you are started within the beginning was enough to get me invested in the story, and that investment didn’t pay off in the second half when you’re up to speed and waiting for something exciting to happen.

Post-reading research shows that a movie is in the works for California. A good book will paint the characters’ faces, leading you to play casting director. Not a single character was fleshed out enough in my mind in this book. An entire town was left faceless and motiveless.

California is challenging to pin down. The main story is so dull compared to what is probably happening outside of the tiny world outlined in these pages. The post-apocalyptic world should have at least been a small character in this story. Sure, the world has ended in every way imaginable by now, be it the undead rising up, natural disaster, or the Electoral College, but any of those are more exciting than the dullness of California.

Analysis from a trophy procrastinator:

I am literally so uninterested in this book that it is taking all my willpower to not just say “ditto” and move along. L explained it perfectly, but I will give my input. I would like to start by saying there is a small part of me that takes slight satisfaction in this failure, not having been my pick. L rarely swings and misses, and I like to keep him humble.

This book started out with a great foundation. There was an underlying dark mystery and promise of big reveals. It never delivered. I often like the switched point of view books where each chapter is read from a different character’s perspective. Still, this time the concept was lost as the complicated story and unanswered questions in addition to the constant miscommunication of the characters muddied the waters. You were never really invested in any character enough to even care what the outcome of them was. Honestly, my interest was mostly held by the question of what the hell is happening in this world? Why are they there? How did the world implode on itself? What is the future of the world? Is it just America or the entire planet? None of these questions were answered. Not one. The most interesting part of the book was then lost in the constant dialogue of questioning, doubts, and shady secrets.

This reads to me like a Danielle Steele book with a bit more grit for those who want to pretend they aren’t just interested in a love story full of missed opportunities and unspoken truths that cause unnecessary tension and misunderstanding. I’m not one of those people, so towards the end, I just kept screaming at the book “WHAT THE FUCK GUYS! JUST SAY WHAT YOU’RE THINKING AND MOVE ALONG!!” For this reason, I do not recommend reading the last three chapters of the book while sitting in a coffee shop at 11am while a lady’s bible study is being held at the next table.

In all, I’m not mad. I’m just disappointed.

Edan Lepucki

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