Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Literary Film Noir from the Nevada Desert - Review of "Battleborn" by Claire Vaye Watkins

There is no question that Claire Vaye Watkins is a gifted writer with a distinctive voice.  There is also no missing the fact that the Nevada desert where she was raised has deeply impacted her literary style and her view of the world.  In this compilation of short stories, entitles "Battleborn," characters who could only thrive in the desiccated atmosphere of Death Valley and environs interact with the harsh environment and with one another in ways that are often troubling.  Like the meandering Truckee River that emerges as a minor character in many of the stories, the men and women and young people who inhabit these tales struggle to find a straight course for their lives.  They often miss connecting with each other at an emotional level.  There are assorted stories of Forty-Niner gold miners, denizens of a brothel near Las Vegas, young women struggling with pregnancy, members of the Charles Manson family, and a host of characters mourning the loss of a loved one or of innocence.

Reading this collection felt like watching a series of short film noir offerings, dark and tormented narratives leading to an unresolved or unfulfilling denouement.  The trick in my enjoying this type of writing was to look for flecks of gold catching the light amidst the slurry of the background atmosphere and action.  Like the stalwart Forty-Niners who panned for gold, the work was hard but occasionally rewarding as flakes and nuggets of brilliant writing presented themselves.

I look forward to reading more of Watkins' work.

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