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

Some weekends I go out, and Razor Blade Baby comes along. One night, about three months after she moved in, I went to a dinner party to celebrate a friend’s new condo, built high up in the hollowed-out bones of the renovated Flamingo. A row of one-legged bird silhouettes was still left on the building’s facade.

It was a fine party, good food. I wore a poufy emerald green cocktail dress with pink flats, a pink ribbon in my hair. My friends, trying their very best for normalcy, sometimes pointed across the room and asked, “Claire, sweetheart, did you bring your auntie? You look just like her.”

“Oh, no,” I would say, swallowing the last bit of prosciutto or salmon dip or whatever it was. “That’s Razor Blade Baby. She goes everywhere with me.”

That night Razor Blade Baby and I left the party and started our walk back to 315 Lake. It had been raining heavily up in the Sierras for two days straight, and the Truckee was raging—the highest I’d ever seen it. The water was milky and opaque, and in it tumbled massive logs that had probably lain on the river’s bed unmoved for years. Across the bridge two concrete stumps with rebar worming out the tops stood on either side of the street like sentinels, all that was left of the original arch. We stood there for a long while, Razor Blade Baby and I, sort of hypnotized with the high water thrashing by, not sure whether it was safe to cross or what we’d do when we reached the other side. I imagined taking very small steps down the wet, slippery bank and wading into the current, my pockets weighed down with silver.

At home I got stoned and thought—as I often do after tracing my fingers over the frosted glass of my cabinets, my butcher-block countertops, sanded and varnished by his hands, all that’s left of him, in my life anyway—of calling J. But I was no more capable of giving him what he needed than I was the day he left.

I didn’t call. Instead I smoked myself deeper into oblivion and watched my hot breath billow at the ceiling, Razor Blade Baby no doubt on the other side, and fell asleep.

I believe I fell in love with one of them, these producers. He e-mailed me, said his name was Andrew, that he wanted to have dinner and talk about a film he wanted to make about my father, about how he was Charlie’s number two in charge (true), how he came to live in an abandoned shack in the desert (true), how he got sober and testified against Charlie, then fell off the wagon again, blacked out, and woke up in a van, on fire (mostly true). I agreed to let him buy me dinner, as it is almost always my principle to do.

I met Andrew at Louis’ Basque Corner on Fourth Street. Razor Blade Baby came along. I take all the movie guys to Louis’, or I used to before Andrew. Now I take them to Miguel’s off Mount Rose, also very tasty.

“What’s good here?” he said. He had an easy, loose smile.

“Picon Punch,” I said. “If you come here and don’t order the Picon Punch, you didn’t really come here.” This was my bit. My Picon Punch bit.

Picon Punch is the deep brown of leather oil. Only the Basques know what’s in it, but we all have a theory—rum, licorice root and gin; top-shelf rye with club soda and three drops of vanilla extract; well vodka, gin and a splash of apple juice; Seagram’s, scotch and a ground-up Ricola cough drop—all theories equally plausible, none of them the truth. One Picon Punch will make you buy another. Two is too many. That night we had three each.

For dinner we ordered the sweetbreads and two Winnemuc ca coffees and ate at the bar playing video poker, Deuces Wild. Razor Blade Baby played Ms. Pac-Man in the back.

We talked quietly, closely. Every once in a while Razor Blade Baby floated over and stood at my elbow. I did my best to shoo her away. I gave her another roll of quarters and found myself leaning into Andrew. He smelled of strong stinging cinnamon, like a smoker who tried hard to hide it.

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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