In the case of California by Edan Lepucki the world goes out with a whimper not a bang. Maybe in a way that’s the more likely scenario rather than a single catastrophe. After all, isn’t that what we are seeing right now in our news? We have a variety of problems, several are climate related, but those are tied with social unrest too, it’s all one giant Venn diagram of interconnected issues,which is what I think has paralyzed both individuals and politicians in making any progress to fix our problems.
The novel California only lightly touches on some of the events that lead to the situation that Cal and Frida find themselves in… a severe blizzard in the Midwest, the inequality of the 1%, lack of fuel and energy. Frida’s world was normal until about the time she entered high school when the cracks in our society began to show. Yet her younger brother Micah was able to attend college, well it was one of those experimental colleges, a bit like Evergreen College in Washington, a cross between intellectualism and back to the land hippie education, but for men only. However, it was free and the concept of skills like agriculture and animal husbandry made it an attractive place for Cal, Micah’s roommate too. The most complex relationship in the books to me is the one between the two roommates, not the relationship between Cal and Micah’s sister Frida which eventually becomes a marriage. Micah is this Svengali-like figure at Plank, the school, though Cal has a silent strength of his own that will be needed w in the future. Micah goes from pulling pranks to being radicalized by the mysterious Toni. After the boys graduate they all return to LA where Micah and Frida are from, but Micah goes to live in the Encampment as he has joined The Group. His roommate Cal has chosen another path, he is in love with Frida and they move into an apartment together, Cal tries to eke out a living growing vegetables while Frida works in a bakery until the supplies dwindle and the place closes. Eventually Micah is involved in a shocking event.
All of the above is told in flashbacks as the story actually begins with Cal and Frida arriving on The Land. After all, in LA normal life is starting to crumble and it’s not exactly safe in many places. Cal thinks it would be best if they leave the city, though it’s never actually made clear where “The Land” actually is. The pair find a shed to live in and are living a Walden Pond existence. While it’s a primitive way of living, it’s peaceful and makes me question their later choice to leave what seems to me like a safe haven, one that even has good neighbors. There is a family nearby who teach them additional life of the land skills. Neighbors who warn them not to leave The Land for an area called The Forms. Maybe they would have complied if Cal hadn’t found the bodies of Bo and Sandy and their children who appear to have poisoned themselves in a mass suicide a la Jonestown in Guyana.
I guess this is why I couldn’t stand the character of Frida in the book. Cal has done everything to take care of her and keep her safe and she just comes off as clueless, willful and capricious. It’s Frida who insists they hike out to the Forms to meet the people living there, a decision that unravels the past, present and future. If you have ever wondered about people who choose to live off the grid, or choose to join a cult, or choose to live in a gated walled off community, well you will probably find this book interesting as it has elements similar to all three. However, after a fair amount of building tension the ending left me empty, unless it wasn’t meant to be an ending, but just the first book in a sequel or series. Normally, I would get online and look but I am still chewing on a bitter aftertaste of feeling a bit let down by the last few chapters.