Monday, August 13, 2012

Review: Battleborn by Claire Vaye Watkins

title:  Battleborn [purchase here]
author:  Claire Vaye Watkins
pages: 287
genre: short stories
published: August 2012
source: I received an advanced reader's copy from Riverhead via 
LibraryThing in exchange for an honest review.

    "'Dudes,' Danny says, 'that was fucking beautiful.'
     A laugh spreads across Jules's big bright face, ravenous the way a wildfire is.  'I know, right?'
     I laugh too.  These are my friends.  These are the funny, empty things we do so we can be the kind of funny, empty people who do them." (page 257-258, Virginia City)

Battleborn has been my constant companion during my commutes for the past few weeks, and I'm actually pretty disappointed that I finished the book.  I was floored by how talented Claire Vaye Watkins is...her short stories are practically flawless!  Tight, incredibly thoughtfully crafted, richly descriptive...I have a feeling this is a collection I will read and reread for years to come.  

A few standout stories (and it was hard to choose just a few!!!):

The Archivist  The moving account of a woman as she, post-breakup, preserves her past and imagines her future.  Raw and delicate at the same time.

The Past Perfect, The Past Continuous, The Simple Past     An Italian tourist visits a brothel as police comb the desert for his missing traveling companion. The way Watkins chose to end this story was unbelievably perfect.

The Diggings    Imagines two brothers as they travel West at the height of the California Gold Rush, and how their relationship changes when they fail to strike it rich.  Watkins imagery and use of subtle metaphor in this piece was particularly striking.  

Ghosts, Cowboys    Addresses her own family history, which is a big a part of the history of the contemporary American West (her biological father, Paul Watkins, was an early member of the Manson Family, but never participated in the murders and ultimately testified against Manson).  

This marks the first time I have ever said this:  GO BUY THIS BOOK.  NOW.  WHATEVER YOU ARE DOING AT THE MOMENT CAN WAIT.  BUY IT.  You will thank me.  Or wait until I buy it for you.  Chances are, if we're friends, and you're a lit nerd like me, I'll be buying you a copy.  But buy it anyway.  Then you'll have two.  So when you lend it to someone, and they fall in love with it as well and "forget" to give it back, you have a backup copy.

Rubric rating:  8.95  I can't give her a nine, because this is her debut collection...but you bet I will be keeping an eye out for more of her genius.

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