Summary and book reviews of Battleborn by Claire Vaye Watkins

Battleborn

Stories

By Claire Vaye Watkins

Battleborn
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  • Hardcover: Aug 2012,
    304 pages.
    Paperback: Aug 2013,
    304 pages.

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Book Summary

Like the work of Cormac McCarthy, Denis Johnson, Richard Ford, and Annie Proulx, Battleborn represents a near-perfect confluence of sensibility and setting, and the introduction of an exceptionally powerful and original literary voice. In each of these ten unforgettable stories, Claire Vaye Watkins writes her way fearlessly into the mythology of the American West, utterly reimagining it. Her characters orbit around the region's vast spaces, winning redemption despite - and often because of - the hardship and violence they endure.

The arrival of a foreigner transforms the exchange of eroticism and emotion at a prostitution ranch. A prospecting hermit discovers the limits of his rugged individualism when he tries to rescue an abused teenager. Decades after she led her best friend into a degrading encounter in a Vegas hotel room, a woman feels the aftershock. Most bravely of all, Watkins takes on - and reinvents - her own troubled legacy in a story that emerges from the mayhem and destruction of Helter Skelter.

Arcing from the sweeping and sublime to the minute and personal, from Gold Rush to ghost town to desert to brothel, the collection echoes not only in its title but also in its fierce, undefeated spirit the motto of her home state. 

GHOSTS, COWBOYS

The day my mom checked out, Razor Blade Baby moved in. At the end, I can’t stop thinking about beginnings.

The city of Reno, Nevada, was founded in 1859 when Charles Fuller built a log toll bridge across the Truckee River and charged prospectors to haul their Comstock silver across the narrow but swift-moving current. Two years later, Fuller sold the bridge to the ambitious Myron Lake. Lake, swift himself, added a gristmill, kiln and livery stable to his Silver Queen Hotel and Eating House. Not a bashful man, he named the community Lake’s Crossing, had the name painted on Fuller’s bridge, bright blue as the sky.

The 1860s were boom times in the western Utah Territory: Americans still had the brackish taste of Sutter’s soil on their tongues, ten-year-old gold still glinting in their eyes. The curse of the Comstock Lode had not yet leaked from the silver vein, not seeped into the water table. The silver itself had not yet been stripped from ...

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Reviews

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Throughout the collection, the stories and their characters convey feelings of loss and regret, for what has - or hasn't - happened to them and to the place where they live, whether globally or more locally...This fear - of smallness, of loss even to the point of extinction - pervades nearly all of the stories. Some are almost painful in their bitterness and brutal in their sparseness. But there's a bleak beauty here too, both in the landscapes Watkins portrays and in the restrained prose she uses to bring this stark place to life for the reader.   (Reviewed by Norah Piehl).

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Media Reviews
Author Blurb Paul Harding, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Tinkers
The book feels like a portrait of the human heart, famished for beauty and love, but finally and almost always wrecked by its own hungers.

Author Blurb Hannah Tinti, author of The Good Thief
Watkins digs and sifts... finding the bright flecks hidden in her characters' darkest moments, until each story shimmers and shines.

Author Blurb Joy Williams, author of The Quick and The Dead
A fresh, fierce, fabulous collection. Watkins writes like the divine Didion – cool and clean with not a word wasted. Where'd she come from? I'm glad she's here.

Library Journal

Readers who have enjoyed the work of Annie Proulx and Joan Didion will find much to admire in this arresting collection, which one hopes is merely the first stop along the way for a writer who deserves a sustained literary life.

Publisher's Weekly

Starred Review. Fortunately, this book contains many stories because I read them for days... the settings are fresh - desert, brothel, ghost town, casino, a series of letters. But the generosity and personal sacrifices of the people are as universal as the stars at night.

Kirkus Reviews

Gloriously vivid stories about the human heart.

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The Real Life Battle That Claire Vaye Watkins Was Born Into

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 ...

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