Most of the stories in Claire Vaye Watkins's debut story collection, Battleborn
, take place in the arid setting of Nevada. Both the cities and the desert are equally, if differently, inhospitable to the lonely, often damaged people who populate the pages of her stories. "From where the house was perched, high up on the alluvial fan, the valley below seemed to unfurl and flatten like a starched white sheet. The sun was rising, illuminating the peaks of the Last Chance Range to the west, starting its long trip across the Black Rock
Something was different in the distance. A small white cloud of dust billowed on the horizon. It grew. At its eyes was a speck. A truck."
In this desolate environment, people can see trouble, like that pickup truck, coming from miles away. And trouble seems to find them, whether in the form of overt threats or suppressed bad memories and...
Beyond the Book
Readers will notice immediately that the narrator of Claire Van Watkins's opening story, "Ghosts, Cowboys," shares a name with the author. This isn't an accident. The story, which is about a young woman trying to outgrow the legacy of her past, is Watkins's own. "About once a year someone tracks me down," she says. "Occasionally it's one of Charlie's fans wanting to stand next to Paul Watkins's daughter, to rub up against all that's left." The "Charlie" in question is Charles Manson, whose "Family" spent time at the famous Spahn ranch in Nevada which was used as a movie set for many westerns. Paul Watkins, the author's (and narrator's) father, was Charles Manson's right-hand man: "Charlie's number one procurer of young girls.
Paul Watkins joined Manson's Family in 1968,...