8. Battleborn: Claire Vaye Watkins

Battleborn Claire Vaye WatkinsI read this one because Claire Vaye Watkins won the Dylan Thomas Prize, which is based (like the literary hero it is named for was) in Swansea. She got a bit of publicity and I thought the book sounded interesting.

It is a collection of 10 short stories set (mostly) in Nevada. The main themes which link them together, apart from the sense of place, are loss, grief, unfulfilment and self-identity. And if that sounds like a depressing read, well to be honest it is. In brief the ‘plots’ (not that a lot happens in any of them) are:

1. Ghosts, Cowboys- the daughter of Charles Manson’s ‘procurer of young girls’ recounts some of her family history and current life.

2. The Last Thing We Need- made up of the unanswered letters of Thomas Gray telling Duane Moser, whose address he finds on pill bottles amongst a pile of stuff at the roadside, about his life

3. Rondine Al Nido- a woman tells her new boyfriend about the time when, aged 15, her and a friend go to Vegas to get drunk and meet older men.

4. The Past Perfect, The Past Continuous, The Simple Past- set on a ‘ranch’ (aka modern brothel) in the Nevada desert where a young Italian who has lost his friend, missing presumed dead on a hike, makes repeat visits and falls in love with a prostitute

5. Wish You Were Here- narrated by a woman whose husband becomes cold and demanding once she becomes pregnant and hankers after her former life

6. Man-O-War- a lonely, divorced gem miner finds a young girl left for dead in the desert and has her to stay for a few days

7. The Archivist- following a break-up, a woman imagines her life with her ex as if it was presented like an exhibition in a museum

8. The Diggings- two brothers head out West to the California gold rush and try to find their fortune

9. Virginia City- three friends go out to Virginia City to find out where one’s straight-laced parents actually eloped and got married

10. Graceland- a woman muses on the state of the planet while dealing with her mother’s suicide

Yep…  a jolly bunch of stories. They are all really well written, with cool, detached, sharp prose, but reading them one after another over the course of a few days like I have done is not a fun experience.

4 stars



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