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Summary and book reviews of The Golden State by Lydia Kiesling

The Golden State

by Lydia Kiesling

The Golden State by Lydia Kiesling X
The Golden State by Lydia Kiesling
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Sep 2018, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2019, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Michael Kaler
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About this Book

Book Summary

A gorgeous, raw debut novel about a young woman braving the ups and downs of motherhood in a fractured America.

In Lydia Kiesling's razor-sharp debut novel, The Golden State, we accompany Daphne, a young mother on the edge of a breakdown, as she flees her sensible but strained life in San Francisco for the high desert of Altavista with her toddler, Honey. Bucking under the weight of being a single parent - her Turkish husband is unable to return to the United States because of a "processing error" - Daphne takes refuge in a mobile home left to her by her grandparents in hopes that the quiet will bring clarity.

But clarity proves elusive. Over the next ten days Daphne is anxious, she behaves a little erratically, she drinks too much. She wanders the town looking for anyone and anything to punctuate the long hours alone with the baby. Among others, she meets Cindy, a neighbor who is active in a secessionist movement, and befriends the elderly Alice, who has traveled to Altavista as she approaches the end of her life. When her relationships with these women culminate in a dangerous standoff, Daphne must reconcile her inner narrative with the reality of a deeply divided world.

Keenly observed, bristling with humor, and set against the beauty of a little-known part of California, The Golden State is about class and cultural breakdowns, and desperate attempts to bridge old and new worlds. But more than anything, it is about motherhood: its voracious worry, frequent tedium, and enthralling, wondrous love.

DAY 1

I am staring out the window of my office and thinking about death when I remember the way Paiute smells in the early morning in the summer before the sun burns the dew off the fescue. Through the wall I hear the muffled voice of Meredith shouting on the phone in laborious Arabic with one of her friend-colleagues, and in my mind's eye I see the house sitting empty up there, a homely beige rectangle with a brown latticed deck and a tidy green wraparound lawn to its left, a free-standing garage to its right, and beyond that an empty lot with juniper shrubs and patches of tall grass where the deer like to pick. Technically it is a double-wide mobile home, although it does not look mobile—it's not on wheels or blocks; it has a proper covered foundation, or at least the appearance of one, and could not be mistaken for a trailer. Technically I own this house, because my grandparents left it to my mother and when she died she left it to me.

The house is waiting for an ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. What aspects of the novel did you like the most? What did you like the least?
  2. Why did you think the book was given the title The Golden State?
  3. Were there any quotes in the novel that resonated with you?
  4. If you were making this book into a movie, who would you cast in the various roles?
  5. The book's epigram, Home is so sad, is the first line from a Philip Larkin poem. Why do you think the author started her novel with this statement? What do you think is meant here, in the context of the book?  Do you agree?
  6. The author relates the difficulties Daphne has getting her 16-month-old daughter ready in the morning: "…when I took the oatmeal away she started wailing and when I carried her into our room she screamed and ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Some technical flaws tarnish The Golden State, but in its best moments, the novel is sure to dazzle those interested in feminist fiction. Lydia Kiesling is a talented writer who has a gift for capturing the rhythms of consciousness and portraying relationships among women, and her career as a novelist seems poised for success...continued

Full Review (766 words).

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(Reviewed by Michael Kaler).

Media Reviews

Booklist
By playing with punctuation and sentence structure, Kiesling immerses the reader in the fragile headspace of the anxious new mother. With a style reminiscent of Claire Vaye Watkins and Sarah Stonich, The Golden State sparks the lovely, lonely feelings inside us all.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Kiesling depicts parenting in the digital age with humor and brutal honesty and offers insights into language, academics, and even the United Nations. But perhaps best of all is her thought-provoking portrait of a pioneer community in decline as anger and obsession fray bonds between neighbors, family, and fellow citizens.

Library Journal
Starred Review. There's so much to love about this novel ... Strongly recommended for readers who enjoy contemporary literary fiction and can handle a few swear words.

Kirkus Reviews
[Kiesling] is very smart, very funny, and wonderfully empathetic ... [A] skilled and promising writer.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Maternity Leave in America

Delfina and Dimas, a painting of a mother and child by Diego RiveraEarly on in The Golden State, Daphne details the havoc wrought upon her life by her university job's standard maternity leave policy, per state regulations: "six weeks off at 50 percent of your salary."

Surprisingly, her California university's meager policy ranks among the best in the nation. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 affords eligible Americans 12 weeks of unpaid leave under federal law. It guarantees them zero weeks of paid leave. As of July 2018, the National Partnership for Women and Families reports that only four states have paid family leave insurance laws in place: California, New Jersey, Rhode Island and New York. The amount of leave granted by these states ranges from four weeks (Rhode Island) to...

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