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.
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).
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.
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.
Gloriously vivid stories about the human heart.
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.
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.
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.
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 Watkinss 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, shortly after he had graduated from high school. Although he was indeed part of Manson's inner circle, he became increasingly uneasy when he heard Manson's so-called Helter Skelter prophecy that seemed to foretell violence and intent to commit murder. Although deeply conflicted, he took an...
Proulx's first work of nonfiction in more than twenty years, Bird Cloud is the story of designing and constructing her dream house. It is also an enthralling natural history and archaeology of the region, and a family history, going back to nineteenth-century Mississippi riverboat captains and Canadian settlers.
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