- Hardcover: 304 pages
- Publisher: MCD (4 September 2018)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0374164835
- ISBN-13: 978-0374164836
- Product Dimensions: 14.4 x 2.6 x 21.3 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 422 g
- Customer Reviews: 26 customer ratings
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Golden State Hardcover – 4 Sep 2018
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"The Golden State anchors Daphne's journey in the visceral and material realities of motherhood . . . The novel beautifully depicts the golden light of California, the smell of the fescue grasses, the thinness of the air, and the way that Daphne and Honey often feel overwhelmed by the scale of the spaces they find themselves in. The result is less an untroubled analogy between the landscapes of motherhood and the American West than an invitation to think more deeply about how limited our canonical literary imaginings of each have been." --Sarah Blackwood, The New Yorker
"Kiesling vividly renders the high desert town, its beauty and its starkness, its juniper-scented air and its neglect, the way it both centers and saps Daphne. Kiesling is also an astute cultural commentator, shedding light on our current political divide and university politics and Orientalism and the barbarism of America past and present while shedding light on parts of California often ignored by news and literature. She reminds us that the Golden State is more complexly storied than we often give it credit for; she also reminds us that for all its stretches of tedium and potential for heartbreak, the state of raising a young child can be pretty golden, too." --Gayle Brandeis, San Francisco Chronicle
"Dry, observant, self-aware, smart without being showy . . . Respectfully but unsentimentally, [Lydia Kiesling] articulates the sorts of emotional drama that undergirds life with a small child, giving shape and consequence to the joy, boredom, nostalgia, tenderness, and frustration that parenting constantly provokes . . . An excellent, accomplished, original novel, one of the best I've read in a while." --Adelle Waldman, Bookforum
"Gorgeously written, deeply engaging, character-driven . . . It's been a very long time since my daughters were toddlers, but Daphne's trenchant observations of her complicated feelings brought it all back." --Nancy Pearl, NPR (Best Books of 2018)
"Remarkable . . . What Kiesling syntactically accomplishes is an exquisite look at the gulf between the narrow repetitive toil of motherhood and the sprawling intelligence of the mother that makes baby care so maddening . . . We don't get to enter a golden state without conflict or boredom. But love can persist despite crappy Skype connections, and wonder can flourish in the interstices between tasks." --Heather Abel, Slate
"In heartrending prose, Lydia Kiesling weaves through an exploration of the political and the private, fear and love, survival and obligation, loneliness and longing." --Arianna Rebolini, Buzzfeed (Best Books of Fall 2018)
"a quiet adventure that tackles questions of motherhood, academic pursuits, sexism, and immigration. In a narrative that could have become claustrophobic, Kiesling's prose feels open and propulsive as Daphne ponders issues that plague all mothers, women, people." --Vanity Fair (This Fall's Best Fiction)
"A first novel of deep personal specificity that also illuminates broad cultural rifts." --Boris Kachka, Vulture (8 New Books You Should Read This September)
"Motherhood and home are two of the themes with which Lydia Kiesling grapples in The Golden State, a lucid, lyrical look at the often alienating, disorienting experience of early motherhood, the way in which it frays at already unraveling nerves, and the way in which external realities contribute to that fraying, that fuzziness, when the fragility of the world around and within us becomes all too apparent."--Kristen Iversen, NYLON
"Already poised to be one of the great (and greatly inventive) novels about motherhood." --Elena Nicolaou, Refinery29 (The Books of September)
"The overwhelming love and loathsome, crushing boredom of mothering a young child arrive in profound, convincing and equal measure . . . The Golden State not only puts fathomless familial love on display, but also unleashes the power of fiction to provoke empathy, shame, fear, imagination, memories, despair and joy." --Lou Fancher, The San Jose Mercury News
"Kiesling's intimate, culturally perceptive debut portrays a frazzled mother and a fractious America, both verging on meltdown . . . Kiesling depicts parenting in the digital age with humor and brutal honesty and offers insights into language, academics, and even the United Nations. But perhaps best of all is her thought-provoking portrait of a pioneer community in decline as anger and obsession fray bonds between neighbors, family, and fellow citizens." --Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"First novelist Kiesling nails the particular travails of new mothers, puts a human face on immigration issues, and adds some contemporary political commentary . . . There's so much to love about this novel . . . Strongly recommended for readers who enjoy contemporary literary fiction and can handle a few swear words." --Library Journal (starred review)
"Lydia Kiesling's first novel encapsulates the intense and often conflicting feelings of early parenthood: frustration, tenderness, isolation. By playing with punctuation and sentence structure, Kiesling immerses the reader in the fragile headspace of the anxious new mother. With a style reminiscent of Claire Vaye Watkins and Sarah Stonich, The Golden State sparks the lovely, lonely feelings inside us all" --Booklist
"Kiesling is a talented author . . . with a unique voice. She's very smart, very funny, and wonderfully empathetic . . . [A] skilled and promising writer" --Kirkus
"The Golden State is a perfect evocation of the beautiful, strange, frightening, funny territory of new motherhood. Lydia Kiesling writes with great intelligence and candor about the surreal topography of a day with an infant, and toggles skillfully between the landscape of Daphne's interior and the California desert, her postpartum body and the body politic. A love story for our fractured era." --Karen Russell, author of Vampires in the Lemon Grove and Swamplandia!
"The Golden State is a rare and important novel not only because it depicts with blazing accuracy the everyday experience of raising a young child but also because it uses the quotidian to reveal larger truths about humanity's gifts and deficits. In Lydia Kiesling's remarkable first novel, the familiar and the foreign are not so different after all, and what we remember may not be what is. A profound book." --Edan Lepucki, author of Woman No. 17 and California
"The Golden State is spectacularly good at rendering maternal obsession and panic. Lydia Kiesling is brilliant on our certainty that for all we feel, we don't do nearly enough for those we love." --Jim Shepard, author of The World to Come
"Lydia Kiesling has written a bold, keenly detailed, and distinctively female coming-of-age story about a woman who, having happily stumbled into marriage, motherhood, and a great job, must now rethink everything. Kiesling makes her patch of high-California desert as vivid a character as the secessionist next door. Beautifully, intricately written, true to life and to women's experience in particular; full of insight and humor and memorable landscapes, The Golden State is a marvelous and captivating literary debut." --Michelle Huneven, author of Off Course
"A big, rollicking adventure of a novel, overflowing with the kind of intense, fractal consciousness life with small children entails, the world at once collapsed and expanded infinitely, in which whole lifetimes are contained in each and every single day, Lydia Kiesling's The Golden State is as funny and alive a story as they come." --Elisa Albert, author of After Birth
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What is exceptional is the blow by blow description of parenting a toddler solo. This has probably never been done before and Kiesling does it brilliantly. Parents will recognise the the boredom, frustration, delight, concern and sheer hard work of it. Also terrific are the descriptions of a frontier type little town in decay, rednecks wanting to carve out a 51st state free from federal interference, the quirks and strategems of the Institute people where Daphne works and the odd, rather curt 92 yo woman Daphne picks up with who wishes to visit the remote camp where her pacifist husband was interned during the war. What little she reveals to Daphne about her life is unusual, and compellingly sad. Kiesling has developed a unique writing style, repeating words and not using commas to convey endless repetitiveness or emotional intensity. It really works. While reading, I was thinking this would be a 4 star book, but as tension and drama ratchet up at the end, all of Daphne’s concerns coalesce and we see how skilfully we’ve been led to this point. The ending is satisfying even as it’s not. You’ll have to read it to find out why. Far from being quotidian, it’s a book to live on in memory.
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What she encounters in this desolate part of the country, which once held such fond memories, and now is one pavement away from the rabble rousers, rifle-toting end-of-the-worlders, we’re not going to take it secessionists.
Daphne is all alone and lonely, without wi-fi, except for the company of her adorable baby, and occasional skype with her husband, and an old bottle of vodka that she is nursing quite well. She needs a friend. Preferably of the adult variety.
I loved this book so much. Daphne is so real. She is smart, lost, supremely funny, trying to keep it together. When the premise, characters, and internal dialogue are so good that you want to go back to the beginning even before you get to the end, that surely tells you that this is a winner. At least in my book. This book.
But clarity proves elusive. Over the next ten days Daphne is anxious, she behaves a little erratically, she drinks too much. She wanders the town looking for anyone and anything to punctuate the long hours alone with the baby. Among others, she meets Cindy, a neighbor who is active in a secessionist movement, and befriends the elderly Alice, who has traveled to Altavista as she approaches the end of her life. When her relationships with these women culminate in a dangerous standoff, Daphne must reconcile her inner narrative with the reality of a deeply divided world.
My Thoughts: As I launched this journey with Daphne and her daughter Honey, I was initially underwhelmed with the first person narrative that felt like a rambling and disjointed internal monologue. The Golden State took me to the high desert, and also back in time to how Daphne first met her husband Engin, a Turkish man who is stranded in his home country due to a green card glitch that felt like a government conspiracy.
But soon I began to see Daphne’s world through her eyes, as she wanders from the mobile home inherited from her mother in Deakins Park to an assortment of diners and bars nearby, all afoot with Honey in her stroller or toddling along. Characters she met along the way felt like intruders into the life she remembered here. Cindy, part of a rabble-rousing secessionist group, is at first annoying, but later seems intrusive and jarring. Then there is Alice, in her nineties, who begins to feel almost like a comrade on this same journey.
Without regular Wi-Fi and the only occasional Skype call with her husband, Daphne turns to vodka and cigarettes while waiting out the elusive future. Over a ten-day period, she ignores the incoming e-mails from her office in San Francisco…and then suddenly, she and Alice embark on a road trip which ends with dangerous and life-changing consequences.
Until the very end, there was a lulling quality to the narrative, and then danger took us to a whole other level. My heart was pounding. Would there be a resolution? I felt it, finally, as I turned the final page. An astounding story that I didn’t love at first, and then I did. 4.5 stars.
Many of the reviews of this book describe it as a road-trip novel and lay weight on the interaction between Daphne, the narrator, and Honey, her just-pre-verbal toddler. These emphases might mislead the reader.
The novel is not a road-trip story where the characters light out to go from A to B and enjoy a series of picaresque or thrilling or bizarre encounters along the way. The novel begins with a series of stressors—marital, professional, maternal—coalescing into a crisis.
Like Dante, Daphne finds herself in the middle of the journey of her life alone in a dark wood, having wandered from the straight and true. Unlike Dante, she doesn't follow a guide through strange realms, she flees San Francisco to her grandparents' old house in rural California. There she sets up camp amid her late grandparents' and late parents' belongings and remains, alone with Honey, for most of the novel's ten days, venturing out occasionally and becoming acquainted and re-acquainted with a few locals and one significant traveler passing through.
Like any parent of a young child, Daphne's days are spent consumed with the trivia and drama of a new, rapidly evolving little human. Any parent will readily recognize Daphne's thoughts about Honey—for all their commonplace nature, Kiesling's articulation of them is acute, wise, and often very, very funny. But they are not the central concern of the book.
What is? Daphne's fugue. Separated from her husband by a bureaucratic nightmare, feeling oppressed by her job, and overwhelmed by parenthood, Daphne feels trapped and stuck, and the question of the novel is how she will go forward, for her status quo no longer works. In an amusing irony, while unilaterially withdrawing from her former life, Daphne becomes aware of and powerfully annoyed by a group of libertarianish California-secessionists.
That Daphne eventually comes to a sharp conflict with them in the book's dramatic climax isn't fundamental to the novel. The incidents and accidents of the plot are not really germane to her evolution. They are however, continually surprising and fresh. Just when you think you've got a handle on Kiesling's zigs, she throws in a zag, as welcome as it is entertaining.
Kiesling's protagonist is a stressed-out, rather depressed woman who retreats not only into the countryside but her own head, while reluctantly anchored to reality by the massive array of quotidian tasks needed to keep a toddler alive (and the utter fascination such tots' development exert on the parental brain, even if all you want is five freaking minutes of quiet solitude).
The plot and side characters don't drive the book, because of Kiesling's skill in tying us to Daphne and her frozen, anxious crisis—and her overthought, mordantly funny reactions to it. The real tension in the book lies in curiosity about what, exactly, will happens when the ice breaks.
In lively prose, Daphne's crystal-sharp (often self-lascerating) observations and utterly relatable travails carry you along compulsively. THE GOLDEN STATE is a quick, delightful read which shows a literary talent of uncommon generosity of feeling coming into her own. The extremely amusing flashbacks to Daphne at work with some eccentric coworkers suggest that Kiesling might well have an academic satire à la David Lodge or Kingsley Amis in her.
Keep an eye on Lydia Kiesling, and pick up THE GOLDEN STATE. It's an slight investment of time that repays greatly in enjoyment.
Place descriptions are fine - from the small - nubbled couches and paneling to the large – realistic multi-sense conjuring of loved California scenery. One caution – for the non-Californian you may find yourself googling references – e.g. Humboldt, Del Norte. Due to care of the author I didn’t need to do this so much with the Turkish references – just the US ones.
What left me unsatisfied: While the book was engrossing, and the pace only dragged occasionally and always as appropriate to life with an almost toddler, the secondary characters outside the mother/baby pairing felt frustratingly thin, just sketched. Cindy was cardboard, caricature. Alice (based I assume on an alt-universe Phyllis Hodgson) wasn’t characterized coherently. I didn’t believe in their reality. The politics felt grafted on not integral. Nor did I believe in the book’s conclusion.
I realize all my dissatisfactions may be a consequence of the book’s strengths. The tight exquisitely characterized mother/baby bond may make all else pale. Or perhaps the author has made a purposeful decision regarding characterization of Daphne’s emotional wiring (has she really never yelled as an adult …. Hmmm?) and that’s affected what can be conveyed from her POV?
So much is strong about the book that it puts areas where I’m not happy into sharper relief than an overall mediocre work might. Summary recommendation: this work is beautifully written and the author is capable of drawing you into a world and a bond. I’m glad I read it.
My only criticism comes from the State of Jefferson subplot. It’s awesome to see life with a baby being depicted but it’s also tough for the writer because it’s not an obstacle that leads to character growth exactly, just endurance. I can be a bit touchy about the depiction of the rural poor so take this with a grain of salt, but the people in the small North California town the narrator interacts with are never really explored. They are there to be racist and show how awkward being married to someone Turkish can be but it never really goes beyond that. It feels like a missed opportunity.
The latter half of the book picks back up when the narrator meets an older woman who challenges her and gets the story underway again. Loved it. Wished there was more of it.
Lydia Kiesling just helped me escape some worst-weather days in an endlessly hot summer. A book about new motherhood and lonely days in a small, hot dusty town as escapism? How did that happen? Funny, brilliant writing for starters.
Kiesling is able to connect Daphne's current situation to global issues like economics, class, bureaucracy...things that impact all of us. It's rare that a day-in-the-life type book transcends time and place, capturing my attention throughout.
I'm a childless male, but I felt - even if only for brief moments - what it might be like to be a mother. A hard and insightful look at parenthood and a changing CA and purpose in life. This book makes me want to be a better person. And to read more.