I thought at first Golden State was going to be more science-fictional than it was, since the backdrop is a vote for whether California will secede from the United States. That’s not the point here, though. It’s really an exploration of the life choices and relationships of Julie, a doctor at the VA who’s having a really challenging day. The secession is just a symbol of potential future, whether breaking up allows for more options than staying with something troubled and full of problems.
Julie is fighting to get through the crowds and riots on a broken ankle to reach her formerly estranged sister Heather, who’s just gone into labor. Everything is complicated by the presence of a former patient who’s developed an unhealthy obsession with her. Plus, she’s about to get divorced, which leads to her thinking of both the good times and bad in her marriage. Her husband is a deejay, a voice on the radio who brings in songs as commentary as what’s happening.
The novel’s structure is full of time jumps. The reader doesn’t learn the full story until the end, which drives the desire to keep reading to find out what’s really going on. Why does Julie have issues with Heather? Why are kids such a fraught topic? What’s with the patient — whose demands often spur more flashbacks, as Julie tells him bits of her story? At times, the excess of the dramatic events seem a bit too much, as though the story wasn’t interesting enough without the risk of death.
I enjoyed the read, although I’m not exactly the target audience for a story about how broken your life may be without a kid. (At least author Michelle Richmond doesn’t make the desire seem universal, just something that affects Julie, which this person who chose not to spawn appreciates.) The paperback version I read comes with supplementary material, a short interview with the author, a music playlist, and a set of discussion questions. I imagine a book club would have a lot to discuss in regards to this story and the choices the characters make. (The publisher provided a review copy.)