Words

The Golden State

Tales of modern motherhood

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

After the forest fires that raged across California recently, it’s hard to imagine the scenery of the high desert as brown and grassy but not charred and smoldering. However, in her new novel The Golden State, author Lydia Kiesling skillfully evokes a scorching summer in fictional Altavista, California, that will have readers fully engrossed.

Daphne, a 30-year-old first-time mother, has retreated with Honey, her toddler, to her grandparents’ abandoned mobile home on a whim, unable to face her job at a San Francisco University’s Center for Islamic Studies.

Her beloved husband, Elgin, lost his U.S. residency status and is stuck in Turkey mired in bureaucracy, and Daphne is folding under the strain of loneliness and single parenthood. She has a vague notion that the stark beauty of the rugged area she adored as a child will bring her some clarity as she ponders next steps. Also weighing on her is the death of a graduate student, killed in a car accident while overseas on a program Daphne coordinated.

As Kiesling relates Daphne’s sun-drenched and stultifying days in the hardscrabble remote desert, we get a keenly insightful portrait of the challenges of modern motherhood—the tedium, the repetition, the overwhelming love and sheer terror.

Packing up the diaper bag to haul Honey on a daily walk past the sagebrush and the Golden Spike to Sal’s Cafe, talking constantly to narrate every moment for Honey’s edification—it’s vividly real, as is when Daphne starts to wonder if she’s hallucinating Honey’s first words.

The details are modern—Daphne struggles with a Skype connection to check in with work; she shamefully downloads some Elmo videos using her Amazon Prime subscription to keep Honey occupied—but the general themes are timeless and universal.

Kiesling mixes some social commentary into the narrative about Daphne and Elgin’s forced separation, and contrasts their international worldview with that of Daphne’s rural neighbors, some of whom favor seceding from the state of California. Kiesling also introduces an elderly woman, Alice, who befriends Daphne when Daphne reaches her lowest point—but who has an agenda of her own.

Although the author has a bad habit of making frequent use of long, run-on lists, these can be skimmed over as one instead savors Daphne’s honesty and insight. There’s a lot to unpack in this novel, so it’s perfect for book clubs. Discussion can encompass writing style, figurative language, descriptions of place and internal monologues, as well as the themes of motherhood, immigration, loneliness and belonging.

Daphne’s run-ins with her neighbor Cindy’s group of State of Jefferson supporters, bent on securing the borders of a new 51st state, is particularly enlightening and thought-provoking. Whose state is the Golden State? What does this conservative, rural group of ranchers and farmers have in common with other Trump supporters across the country? How do we balance the needs of urbanites and rural residents? Immigrants versus disadvantaged multi-generational locals?

Kiesling does not provide any definitive answers, just a peek at one woman’s choices for herself and her family.

Christine Perkins is the executive director of the Whatcom County Library System.

More Words...
The Library Book
A hot read

Susan Orlean loves libraries, but she didn’t set out to write a book about them. In fact, the bestselling nonfiction author and staff writer for The New Yorker had decided that she was done writing books entirely. “Working on them felt like a slow-motion wrestling match,” she…

more »
Listen and Learn
Celebrate Banned Books Week

Last March, when I headed to Beijing for another teaching stint on behalf of Whatcom Community College, my wallet held an international Visa card, a recent “upgrade” from my conventional card.

Little did I realize this card would prove almost useless, while my sweet Whatcom County…

more »
Hope Never Dies
A bromance for the ages

Joe Biden in retirement is not a pretty picture: grouting bathroom tile, napping and watching Barack’s globetrotting adventures with the likes of Bradley Cooper and Justin Trudeau on cable television. Barack has yet to call him and he feels the sting as would a jilted lover. “No…

more »
Events
Today
Bellingham at Home Informational Meeting

1:00pm|Bellingham Senior Activity Center

Endangered Species Curator's Tour

1:30pm|Whatcom Museum's Lightcatcher Building

Sedro-Woolley Farmers Market

3:00pm|Hammer Heritage Square

Prosecutors race is a referendum on reform

6:00pm

Creekside Open Mic

6:30pm|South Whatcom Library

Where the sidewalk ends

7:00pm

Walking to the End of the World

7:00pm|Village Books

Brian Dean Trio

7:00pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Climate Change and Forests

7:00pm|Sustainable Living Center

Modified documentary and Panel Discussion

7:30pm|Pickford Film Center

Trove Web
Tomorrow
Parkinson's Dance Class

10:00am|Ballet Bellingham

Fall Craft & Antique Show

10:00am|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

Komo Kulshan Ski Swap

4:00pm|Bloedel Donovan

Jazz Jam

5:30pm|Illuminati Brewing

Camber Exhcange

5:30pm|1820 Scout Place

Falling Out of the Box Jewelry Challenge

6:00pm|Jansen Art Center

Squash Celebration

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

Chuckanut Radio Hour

6:30pm|Whatcom Community College

Balkan Folk Dancers

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Nooksack River Travelogue

7:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

The Duck Variations

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

The Skriker

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Side Show

7:30pm|Lincoln Theatre

Trove Web Village Books
Friday
Fall Craft & Antique Show

10:00am|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

Komo Kulshan Ski Swap

4:00pm|Bloedel Donovan

The Duck Variations

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

The Skriker

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Side Show

7:30pm|Lincoln Theatre

Wild Things

9:30am|Stimpson Family Nature Reserve

Cider Days

11:00am|Camber

Fall Family Weekend

12:00pm|Western Washington University

Books and Bites

1:00pm|Blaine Library

Food Not Bombs

4:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

Spaghetti Feed

5:00pm|Ferndale Senior Center

Bread and Puppet Theater

5:00pm|Laurel Park

Paper mache and politics

5:00pm

Family Story Night

6:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Gore and Lore Tours

6:00pm|Downtown Bellingham, historic Fairhaven

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

7:00pm|Blaine High School

Friday Night Flicks

7:00pm|Van Zandt Community Hall

Pride and Prejudice

7:00pm|Lynden Christian High School

A Night with Miguel de Hoyos

7:00pm|Kennelly Keys

Laura Read and Friends

7:00pm|Village Books

Daily Dying

7:00pm|Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship

Locarno

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Hellingham

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

Teton Gravity Research

7:30pm|Mount Baker Theatre

see our complete calendar »

Village Books Siro Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 Trove Web