What do you say about a book that comes from great ideas but in the end is completely anticlimactic? I'm not quite sure what I want to say about Edan Lepucki's debut, California.
California begins with the world more or less in ruins. Natural disasters and various other disasters have left our world as we know it behind. Now the world's population has receded and our survivors have either stayed in the old, run-down cities, fled to new places to live called the Communities, or they have left civilization and are living in the wilderness. Our main characters, husband and wife Cal and Frida live in the wilderness. When they discover that Frida is pregnant they must decide: should they try to find other people or should they stay on their own? After a series of events they decide to head for a place where they, more or less, know there's a group of people living. But these people are keeping secrets Frida and Cal might have to understand or they might be in more trouble than they realize.
That's the basics, and it is what had me hooked to read this book. I'm not quite sure how I feel about this. There were positive and negative parts, so I'll divide this review into those parts.
What I Loved
I loved the fact that this is a dystopia that takes place in a near future. With the global warming as well as other environmental issues we have today, I love this concept. I have such troubles with reading dystopians today that take place in our world, hundred years or more into the future, with no mention of how they solved the environment crisis. (Yeah, I know, I'm picky on this, but this is one of the things I study and are most interested in.) In Lepucki's world they haven't solved it, and that's because they're living it. While the world building isn't extensive, I still praise her for creating this world.
I loved Cal. Not his character – most of them were terrible people - but rather his character's development. Lepucki's did a great job exploring his psyche, for good and bad. Unfortunatley, the rest of the characters weren't as well developed and none of them were as interesting as Cal.
What I liked
The general idea of the group Cal and Frida come to live with. Or, more how they came to be at all. As said, this community has its secrets and reasons for keeping them just that, secret. The background of it is well done and does keep the promise of being mysterious (at least for a longer period of the book). The structure with Morning Labor, their containment, and etc. I can't go in on too many details as it's all part of the complexity of it.
Second, and this is also more about the whole general ideas Lepucki have in the air regarding the plot. There are some great ideas somewhere in here, but they're hazy as other, less unique, ideas take the front row. Still, these ideas linger there in the background and are part of the story. I liked them a great deal, which means I liked parts of this story a great deal.
What I didn't Like
There's one major part of this story that cheapens the whole thing. It's a major spoiler as well, so I won't say exactly what it is. But, what it does is this: it destroys the thought that Cal and Frida might be in great danger. It kind of proves that the reader never has to fear for them for real. Maybe this move was meant to disturb the reader into believing they can't be sure what's real and what's not. For me, it did the complete opposite.
Then there is the anticlimactic ending. It leaves too many loose threads (almost all of them where about what I cared for/wanted to know) and is, well, anticlimactic. The book spends almost 200 pages building up toward the point where the people in the community are meant to vote for if Cal and Frida are allowed to stay. That was 150 pages too many, if you ask me. At least if I have the ending to go by. When I reached this point I'd already seen the outcome about 50-100 pages earlier, and was hoping Lepucki would surprise me. She didn't. It was too simple, to easy, and waytoo predictable.
Overall, though, if I have to say something, California is a decent debut and a decent dystopian. It's a nice change from the recent development in this genre. Lepucki is a good story teller even ifCalifornia had some pacing issues. It's far from bad. As said, I liked parts of it greatly. Other parts, not so much. In short, a well written story that could've put more thought into the more original ideas, but it can still stand on its own without that.