Young mother Daphne flees her sedate life in San Francisco for the high desert, her toddler Honey in tow. Her Turkish husband has been unable to return to the United States – a ‘click-of-the-mouse error’ – and Daphne is on the verge of a breakdown. She hopes a stay in her family’s unused mobile home will bring quiet, and clarity. But clarity proves elusive, as Daphne’s dream of escape collides with the reality of a deeply divided world.
Keenly observed, bristling with humour, The Golden State is a gorgeous debut about class, a fractured America and, above all, motherhood: its voracious worry, frequent tedium and enthralling, wondrous love.
Lydia Kiesling is the editor of The Millions. Her debut novel, The Golden State, was longlisted for the Centre for Fiction’s First Novel Prize. Her essays and criticism have appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the Guardian, Slate and the New Yorker online. Kiesling lives in San Francisco with her family.
‘Intimate, culturally perceptive…Kiesling depicts parenting in the digital age with humor and brutal honesty.’
Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
‘Kiesling is a talented author...with a unique voice. She’s very smart, very funny, and wonderfully empathetic...[A] skilled and promising writer.’ Kirkus Reviews
‘The Golden State anchors Daphne’s journey in the visceral and material realities of motherhood…the result is less an untroubled analogy between the landscapes of motherhood and the American West than an invitation to think more deeply about how limited our canonical literary imaginings of each have been.’ Sarah Blackwood, New Yorker
Kiesling's intimate, culturally perceptive debut portrays a frazzled mother and a fractious America, both verging on meltdown. Thirty-something Daphne works for the Institute for the Study of Islamic Societies and Civilizations at a San Francisco university while raising her 16-month-old daughter, Honey, alone. Daphne's Turkish husband, Engin, has been denied reentry into the United States. Daphne is also haunted by the death of a student, who was traveling on Institute funds. Tired of waiting for Engin to be allowed back and reaching the edge of a breakdown, Daphne packs up Honey and heads to Northern California's high desert to take refuge in the house she inherited but rarely visits. She fixes tuna sandwiches and pancakes, finds her mother's pomegranate-themed ornaments and collectibles, and attends her mother's now nearly empty church, but the safety and emotional connection to her own childhood she seeks prove as tenuous as overseas communication with Engin in Istanbul or the local ventures that ensnare her: neighbor Cindy's anti-government, anti-immigration secessionist movement and 92-year-old Alice's scheme to visit the work camp where her husband served during World War II. Kiesling depicts parenting in the digital age with humor and brutal honesty and offers insights into language, academics, and even the United Nations. But perhaps best of all is her thought-provoking portrait of a pioneer community in decline as anger and obsession fray bonds between neighbors, family, and fellow citizens.