I had high expectations of Gold Citrus Fame. I loved Battleborn, Watkins earlier collection of short stories and my favourite critic had given the novel four stars. I must admit that the expectations were not entirely met. It is not that Gold Citrus Fame is no good, on the contrary, it has to do with Vaye Watkins trying too hard to write a clever novel. In it she describes a future America in which the western states have become victim to man-made draught and destruction. Water and food are scarce, people are no longer welcome in other states. The ruins and remnants of the once prosperous society are painful reminders of man’s greed and stupidity.
Two lovers, Luz and Ray, who have taken into their home a young child, Ig, try to escape in order to create a better life for Ig. Their escape ends in the camp of an insane prophet, Levi, who has surrounded himself with a group of lost souls. It is clear from the start that the man is a fraud, a charlatan. His groupies do not see the truth and neither does Luz. She goes for him body and soul without realizing that he is abusing her and making her addicted to a natural sedative. By the time she does realize the truth, it is too late.
I was impressed by the way Watkins describes the ruins of the once so important state, the grim effect of draught and poverty on people who are stuck. I also liked the way she makes us like Luz, despite the fact that she is the rather silly and naive product of upbringing and surroundings. I definitely did not like the pages of historical facts and the endless enumerations. I certainly did not have the patience to read them with care. The fragments in which Levi is the inmate of a psychiatric ward are superfluous as far as I am concerned: I did not need them to convince me that the man was a nut case.
Watkins tried to experiment with style and structure, which worked in some cases and failed in others. I do not rate the novel four stars, I do think it is worth reading.