Title: Golden State
Author: Michelle Richmond
Pub. Date: February 4, 2014
Source: ARC via publisher (thank you, Bantam/Random House!)
Summary: Doctor Julie Walker has just signed her divorce papers when she receives news that her younger sister, Heather, has gone into labor. Though theirs is a strained relationship, Julie sets out for the hospital to be at her sister’s side—no easy task since the streets of San Francisco are filled with commotion. Today is also the day that Julie will find herself at the epicenter of a violent standoff in which she is forced to examine both the promising and painful parts of her past—her Southern childhood; her romance with her husband, Tom; her estrangement from Heather; and the shattering incident that led to her greatest heartbreak.
Genre: Adult, Contemporary
Today history will be made. In a few hours’ time, the state will vote on whether or not California will secede from the United States and become its own entity, a new republic. Despite this momentous moment, Doctor Julie Walker has a more pressing matter at hand: her husband wants a divorce and her once-estranged sister is in labor. In the midst of it all is Dennis, a man Julie first met years ago who’s obsession with her is nothing short of terrifying. After taking several nurses and attendants hostage, Dennis insists the only person he wants to speak to is Julie – and he wants to hear a story.
Golden State is a slim thing of a novel – barely over 250 pages – with chapters averaging 2-3 pages. Despite its near-nothing length and blinding pace, there’s a lot of story packed in these pages: Dennis and the hostages; Heather’s quickening contractions; the divorce; California’s possible secession. Through it all Julie’s memories begin to bubble up from their hidden depths. Memories of the night she met Tom, the child that once made them a family, and what Heather did to ruin everything.
Fans of linear storytelling will want to steer clear of Golden State. From the beginning you’re thrown into this story with no clue as to where – or when – the next chapter will take you. Time skips and flashbacks are used to great effect, though it took me a few chapters to get a feel for it and to acclimate myself with Ms. Richmond’s style of writing. Once I did, however, it was smooth sailing and everything was, well, golden.
Throughout the entire story I wanted answers. Why was Dennis holding up the hospital? What did Heather do? Who was this boy Tom and Julie loved and what could have happened to him? In the end everything plays out beautifully, and the ride there makes it all worthwhile. Tom’s radio show provides a soundtrack of sorts to the novel. Al Green, Wilco, and countless others receive mentions and their songs further the story. Even with their pending divorce Tom continues to send messages to Julie through his song choices.
While reading I couldn’t help but draw parallels to one of my favorite books of 2012, Karen Thompson Walker’s The Age of Miracles. Fans of that novel are sure to enjoy Golden State for one simple fact: the Big Event takes a backseat to the characters. In The Age of Miracles the Earth’s rotation was bringing about an apocalypse of sorts, yet the story focused on a 12-year-old girl as she went to school and made friends. Golden State doesn’t exactly downplay the secession plot, but it certainly doesn’t take centerstage. Instead this is more a novel about a marriage, a family, and moving on from the past.
I’m not one to stay up reading into the wee hours. Golden State‘s purely addictive writing made it impossible for me to put it down. What’s another chapter when the chapter is only 2 pages? Before I knew it it was going on 2AM and I was hooked. Golden State digs deep into what it means to let go and live and I loved every minute of it. Michelle Richmond is now firmly on my radar and I’ll be sure to check out her previous novels.
“You know, when you think about it,” Tom says, “seceding is a lot like breaking up. You think you can’t live without each other. All of your interests are intertwined, your history’s all mixed up together. But then, all of a sudden, you’re separate entities, on your own. It’s downright scary.”
“But the thing about reinvention is, no matter how much you change everything on the outside, you still know where you came from. You’ve still got all that stuff from middle school clanging around in your system. It’s almost like you’re living a double life, just waiting to be caught. Waiting for someone to walk up to you and say, ‘I know who you are. Enough with the charade.'”
He was my partner, the one I had chosen, the one who had chosen me. Heather and I were born to each other, the way you’re born to a country: an imposed allegiance. Between a marriage one chooses and a blood relation one doesn’t, shouldn’t marriage be the more powerful bond?