The story takes place in a not-too-distant version of America, where society has been slowly yet surely disintegrating over the years. Due to drastic changes in weather and economic breakdown that has driven the social classes miles apart, people are either abandoning the major cities to find a new life out in the wilderness or holed up in specially guarded "Communities" to avoid dealing with the chaos growing outside of their doors:
Thanks to Cal's skills in gardening, the two of them have managed to make a somewhat livable home for themselves. The nearest neighbors having died mysteriously, Cal and Frida have taken over their house and look only to the occasional trades with August, a traveling peddler, for any possible upgrades to their current semi-primitive lifestyle:
When they come across The Land, a small contained community that lives rurally but peacefully, Cal and Frida strongly hope that this is their ticket to a better place to start their family. Despite their initial awkwardness as they try to fit into this new set of people, many unspoken things are causing doubt about The Land becoming their permanent home.
Even with the somewhat happy discovery of a presumed to be dead friend and relative amongst the residents, they both grow suspicious of certain elements such as no children to be found at all and an unusual fear of the color red. As they each learn on their own more about what has happened to the collective group on The Land that lead to their present way of doing things, Cal and Frida began to wonder if there is truly safety in numbers after all:
Yes, I did buy this book from Powell's, in sympathy with Colbert's cause but regardless of how it came about, I was pleased to stay up late at night to complete California.
While at times the secretive actions of certain characters seemed to be put in place to prolong the plot, the pace of the book was steady and purposeful, earning it's interest in what would happen next with a honest sincerity.
Lepucki also provides some engaging food for thought as her indirect descriptions of what caused the world as we know to appear to end with a whimper mirror many of the issues we're facing right now. This blend of genre material with literary fiction has an interesting flavor, much like the cakes that Frida finds herself being able to bake for her friends on The Land; a fanciful recipe made into a home style treat for all to enjoy.
California does make for a thoughtful read and many book clubs are sure to list it amongst their selections this season and beyond. It is good to find that a strongly hyped book can live up to it's press as well as offer the reader a glimpse of a lost world that,with any luck, will one day never be ours: