Ridge Writers on Books: ’Battleborn’ by Claire Vaye Watkins

By MARGARET LEUBS

Ridge Writers on Books: ’Battleborn’ by Claire Vaye Watkins“Battleborn” is a collection of short stories set mostly in the desert, written by a young woman who was born in Bishop and raised in Tecopah and Pahrump.

Claire Vaye Watkins was interviewed on NPR’s “Fresh Air” last month, and my sister caught the broadcast. “You’ll hate her,” my sister told me. “But I thought she sounded interesting, so I requested her book from the library.” Of course I couldn’t resist a challenge like that, so I requested the book from the library too.

Verdict: I hate her a little bit. After all, she’s only 28 and has already won several major literary awards for her first book. What’s not to hate? But I’m also very impressed.

Watkins writes beautifully, and her ability to depict the desert is impressive. I found myself going back to try to figure out how she described something so well, in so few words. It’s hard to pin down.

“Out here a person could get turned around and lose his own trail, each stretch of nothing looking like the next, east looking like south looking like west, not knowing where he came on the lake bed, and not knowing how to get home.”

The stories are gritty, sometimes a bit grittier than necessary. Several of them feature a disaffected young woman who spends a lot of time drinking and smoking and dating the wrong man — or mistreating the right one. Maybe it’s my age, but I find such characters tiresome.

Furthermore, depicting substance abuse is not a good way to indicate that a character is suffering, only that the character is addicted to said substance.

Interestingly, my favorite stories in the book (“Man-o-war,” “The Last Thing We Need,” “The Diggings”) have male protagonists. When Watkins steps away from her own persona, she seems to tell a better story.

Book reviews often describe a young writer as being “one to watch,” implying a brilliant career ahead, though many of those young writers may only publish one book, especially in today’s miserable publishing climate. But Watkins really is a writer to watch. I’d like to read what she writes as she gets older, as her perspective matures.

I fully expect her to write an absolutely incredible novel when she’s 50. And I hope it’s set in the desert.

This weekly column is written by members of the Ridge Writers, the East Sierra Branch of the California Writers Club. Meetings are held the first Wednesday evening of each month at Ridgecrest Presbyterian Church, and free programs are offered throughout the year. Ridge Writers’ book “Planet Mojave: Visions From a World Apart” is available at Carriage Inn, Jawbone Station, the Historic USO Building, the Maturango Museum, Red Rock Books and online from the official website www.planetmojave.com.

Story First Published: 2013-05-01