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Gold Fame Citrus: A Novel of Drought

In Gold Fame Citrus, Claire Vaye Watkin’s debut novel, twenty-five-year-old Luz lives a hardscrabble life with her boyfriend Ray in a Los Angeles now mostly deserted except for the desperate. Together, Luz and ray wait for the desert dunes to engulf the once vibrant city. Years of drought coupled with screaming winds and high temperatures have created the Amargosa Dune Sea, an expanding desert that consumes canyons, mountains, and cities in its wake.

The novel itself is an introspective examination of the roles dreams play in our own life and wider culture, but Watkin’s portrayal of the desert is a vision of the future California has to consider as a possibility—perhaps an unlikely one, but possible all the same. Deserts have overtaken previously lush and verdant environments before—millennia ago the Sahara was wet, green, and full of life.

Watkin’s story reminds us of the chilling effects of climate change. In her dark near-future world, neighboring states have closed their borders to Californians fleeing the sands, and those who remain live a life of lawlessness and crushing defeat. When a two-year-old child comes into Luz and Ray’s care, they decide to seek out civilization in the east—a trek that will force them into the shifting desert sands.

While California isn’t a desert yet, state residents are having to contend with a changing climate that will mean increasingly limited water resources in the years to come. The southwest coast has always been arid and prone to drought. That hasn’t changed. What’s shifted is the duration and severity of such droughts, making water conservation of vital importance even between dry periods.

Right now, Gold Flame Citrus remains a work of fiction. Whether or not it resembles the future is, in large part, up to us and our willingness to adopt new, water-conscious ways of life. And that, perhaps as much as anything, is Watkin’s message.

picture of the book Gold Fame Citrus

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