Published by MCD
Publication date: September 4, 2018
Genres: Book Clubs, Contemporary, Debut, Fiction, Literary
At first glance, Daphne has a great life. She’s in her early thirties, lives in San Francisco, is mother to a beautiful 16-month-old daughter, Honey, and is happily married, with a job that may not be the most satisfying, but pays well. The only problem? Thanks to Immigration officer intimidation at SFO airport her husband, Engin, had his green card taken away and was deported back to Turkey. She’s effectively a single mother and when The Golden State opens, she’s had enough. So she takes Honey and goes up to the home her grandparents left her in Altavista, for what she hopes will be a nice break and quality time with her daughter.
I did not have a thought in my head except go go go when I bundled her into the car yesterday and started the drive northeast but now I wonder if I just wanted to be with her and not in the office and whether I might have achieved this by taking to day off work and going to the playground for god’s sake.
This quote gives a clear sense of how The Golden State is going to go. Author Lydia Kiesling enters Daphne’s mind and never exits for breath until the novel’s final sentence. There is a traditional structure for paragraphs and dialogue, but beyond that punctuation is minimal and a sentence could be a paragraph. Is it a bit intense? Yes, but for anyone who deals with anxiety, an ongoing internal dialogue is not unusual. When you factor in motherhood, it heightens the pathos and humor that comes with every single moment. It makes for the kind of reading that feels both foreign and close-to-home.
The Golden State is mostly a character study. The novel only spans the ten days that Daphne is away from her regular life and while things happen externally, it what’s going on internally that matters. She is struggling. She makes some foolish decisions—drinks too much and takes up smoking. She feels trapped and out-of-control because in many ways she is. She does everything right, but can’t get her husband back to the U.S. She’s lonely and alone. Kiesling conveys it all perfectly with sentences that ramble and swerve in the natural way of an overwhelmed mind. But when it’s necessary, she cuts to the chase in a way that makes my heart jump with recognition.
I want to start screaming and I open my mouth wide to do it and nothing really comes out, just a tiny squeaking and I wake up feeling that there’s nothing a man can tell me about impotence.
The Golden State is filled with these kind of thoughts, lots of thoughts, and they’re not all just about motherhood. Kiesling goes beyond one woman in a singular situation and with humor, kindness, and determination creates reading that is relatable to all women.