Back in my theater days, when I thought my life would forever be filled with actors, directors and designers, friends would frequently leave the Chicago area for California, in search of their dreams. LA, of course, but also San Francisco. I visited there in my early twenties and again as a newlywed. Each time, I felt like I had landed in another world. My philosophy was that these were people living a little too close to the edge of land and seeing how far they could push their boundaries westward, water be damned.
This back-story might explain the strong appeal of Michelle Richmond’s novel, Golden State. She perfectly captures a woman and a society “on the brink.” The time is the present, a single day in fact, but California is on the verge of seceding from the United States and Dr. Julie Walker’s life in San Francisco is falling apart.
“I never expected to find myself here, on the edge of the continent–childless, possibly jobless, with broken bones and a broken marriage, citizen of a broken country. But here I am, and I must make something of it. That’s really the only choice one has: make something of it, or don’t.”
Julie is in the midst of a hostage crisis, a divorce, a birth and deep in grief. But it is her determination to “make something of it” that makes this novel sing. Richmond brilliantly brings Julie to life, slowly sharing her past and each hour of this single day leading up to the crisis point. I love her use of time in this novel.
She also goes deeper than a great character study, to investigate the ways we as individuals and as societies deal with change.
“We understand the possibility of change up to a point. We are not prepared for, what we lack the capacity to imagine, is a seismic shift. The wall coming up or down, the decades-old dictatorship falling, the familiar bonds disintegrating.”
Golden State is the first of Michelle Redmond’s novels that I’ve read, but it certainly won’t be the last. I am excited to dive into her short story collection, The Girl in the Fall-Away Dress.