Excerpt from Battleborn by Claire Vaye Watkins, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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by Claire Vaye Watkins

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  • First Published:
    Aug 2012, 304 pages
    Aug 2013, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl

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Print Excerpt

The day my mom checked out, Razor Blade Baby moved in. Upstairs. Number four. Right above me. We are neighbors at 315 Lake Street, Newlands Heights, Reno, Nevada. That first day I heard the floorboards above my bed creak, then the hall stairs. When I opened the door, Razor Blade Baby invited me to see a three-dollar matinee at the old Hilton Theatre. Though I like their popcorn (stale and fluorescent yellow, salty enough to erode a gully in the roof of your mouth) and their hot dogs (all beef), I said what I would say every Sunday: No. No, thank you. I closed the door, and she sat on the stairs as she would every Sunday. She stayed there all day.

My father, Paul Watkins, met Charles Manson at a house party in San Francisco eleven months before Razor Blade Baby was born. He and Charlie wrote songs together and camped around the bay until December, when they set out for L. A., bored with the city, sick of the rain. Paul was eighteen and handsome. Or so my mother would tell me later.

At Spahn’s, Paul moved his things into the old jail set: a sleeping bag, candles, his guitar and flute. He looked younger than his age, young enough to enroll himself in Pacific Palisades High School, though he’d already graduated the previous spring, a year early. He would become fond of pointing this out in interviews. (To Maureen Reagan on Larry King Live, August 23, 1987: “We were bright kids, Maureen. Not delinquents. I was the class president.” Larry was out sick.) Paul went to Pali, home of the Dolphins, for two months to meet girls and bring them back to the ranch. He was good at it.

Years later, well after he was finally swallowed up by Hodgkin’s disease, my mother, after one of her attempts to join him, wherever he was, called my father “Charlie’s number one procurer of young girls.” I couldn’t tell whether she was ashamed or proud of him.

She also said, lying on her bed at University Medical Center, bandages on her wrists where she’d taken a steak knife to them, “When you go, all that matters is who’s there with you. Believe me. I’ve been close enough enough times to know.”

About once a year someone tracks me down. 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, to put a picture up on his red-text-on-black-background website. Far more often, though, it’s someone with a script. Producers, usually legit ones—I Google them: True Lies, The Deer Hunter. They offer to drive down from Lake Tahoe, take me out to dinner. They never want my permission to make their movie or input on who should play me (Winona Ryder); they just want to know how am I.

“How are you?” they say.

“I’m a receptionist,” I say.

“Good,” they say, long and slow, nodding as though my being a receptionist has given them everything they came for.

The day after Razor Blade Baby moved in, I rode my bike across the Truckee River to work. Razor Blade Baby followed, wearing a blazer, trailing behind me on a violet beach cruiser with a wicker basket, her long hair flapping behind her as though tugged by a hundred tiny kites. She followed me up the courthouse steps and sat in the lobby in front of my desk. She stayed there until lunch, when we sat on a bench beside the river, me eating a burrito from the cart, her dipping celery sticks into a Tupperware dish of tuna salad made with plain yogurt instead of mayonnaise. After lunch I went back to work, she back to the lobby. At five we rode home.

Some days she brings a roll of quarters and plugs the parking meters in front of the building. Others she crosses the street and browses the souvenir shops. I watch her from my office window, through the shop’s glass front, running her fingers along the carousels of T-shirts. When the sun is very hot she simply sits on the courthouse’s marble steps, drinking a cherry Slurpee, her palm pressed to the warm rock.

Excerpted from Battleborn by Claire Vaye Watkins. Copyright © 2012 by Claire Vaye Watkins. Excerpted by permission of Riverhead Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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