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Edan Lepucki's California: Small community, dark secrets, yes yes, BUT ALSO a foreboding sense of one's own vulnerability in the face of chaos

I don't know how to hold books for pictures.

I posted a blurby review of Edan Lepucki's California before I'd finished it, because that's how I do, but I have now actually finished it and attended an event of hers hosted by the excellent Chicago bookstore The Book Cellar (no, I did not get the double meaning of that name until I said it out loud, which was embarrassingly recently).

I was impressed by The Book Cellar, Edan Lepucki, and California. All of them. Let's discuss why in reverse order:

California is a book I requested from Little, Brown because I loved the cover SO MUCH and it said something about post-apocalyptic AND a small community with dark secrets. I would actually call it "semi-post-apocalyptic," but the two main characters are still forced to move into the forest and pee outside and build things out of wood they've chopped themselves and go to bed when it's dark out because THERE IS NO ELECTRICITY IN THE POST-APOCALYPTIC FOREST.

The book revolves around a couple who is trying to survive the collapse of everything, and then of course the woman (Frida) gets pregnant and they have to try seek out the weird community to the east that possibly exists. THE COMMUNITY WITH DARK SECRETS (maybe).

California was eminently readable. I would never talk about the "fluidity of its prose" or "beauty of its structure" or whatever books in the Literary Fiction section get praised for, but screw those books, because this book made me think more than most of those do. Mainly about how quickly I'd die if I couldn't depend on the hard work of all those who went before me & civilized everything so I can unthinkingly lie in my bed that's not stuffed with corn husks, type on my charging laptop that connects me to the rest of the world, run my fan to stay cool, keep my lights on so I can work after dark and play Toni Braxton's "Un-Break My Heart" on a never-ending loop on my phone because Toni Braxton GETS IT.

Yeah, like I'm going through the apocalypse without this

At the Book Cellar event, Lepucki said she didn't really do research, which astonished me, because there're so many day-to-day survival things she talks about that I wouldn't have even thought of. I am 100% sure I'd die in the first few days, especially if I got cut or something. You know what I thought a lot about while reading this book? How squirrels know how to gather nuts and then store them and to stay away from like bears, but we've lost ALL that knowledge that we probably just somehow had. Why would we need instincts? WHY INDEED. Everything's been taken care of for us by millions and millions of people who died messing up and now stuff's perfected and we have no idea how to do anything for basic survival EVERYBODY PANIC.

I went to the event with my friend Julie (she mainly came because I promised we could get gelato after) and we were both mightily impressed with how Lepucki handled everything. The reading wasn't too long (authors reading from their own books is not high up on my list of Things I've Gotta See More Of) and the way she handled questions was essentially "Behold! as I deftly make your boring question not boring." Thank you, madam. And people in the audience kept the word "process" to a minimum, which is always appreciated.

Edan Lepucki looking kind of like J.K. Rowling

She said part of her thinking for the book involved the idea of what if people under pressure were petty and selfish and didn't let go of their first world problems? Which is a delightful notion, particularly if it means that in a few hundred years Q doesn't throw us in front of the Borg. (I want five points for that joke) 

She also said about the end of the book: "I thought it would be a very literary ending, nothing will be resolved -- but people are pissed at me."

In case you're worried about being maddened by the end -- I was fine with it. It did seem like a whole other story was getting set up, but I don't need actual definite closure on those characters. The story she decided to tell is there and it's page-turny, which as a hard-to-keep-interested reader, I appreciate muchly.

So lastly let's talk about The Book Cellar. I'd never been there before, which, y'know, shame on me, etc, but my indie bookstore is Open Books where everything is cheap and it's right by my apartment and the proceeds help fund literacy. Also The Book Cellar is way far out on the brown line. But I'd forGOTTEN how nice a curated store can be. The hazards of used bookstores/giant online retailers is they just have everything or a weird motley assortment. But when you go into The Book Cellar, you're immediately like, "Oh, I want to read that. And that. And that." And they have black cherry cola you can buy, so yes, I will be going back.

As for the actual book signing part of the process, not a single hard time was given for my "Can you write one of your favorite words" question, which remains my favorite thing to ask authors. WORDS ARE HOW THEY SPEND THEIR LIFE THEY THINK ABOUT THEM MORE THAN WE DO. So here you go -- nicely done, Edan Lepucki:

Everyone read California and then come talk to me about the the Spikes.


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