The extraordinary debut collection from the Guggenheim Award-winning author of the forthcoming Gold Fame Citrus
Winner of the 2012 Story Prize
Recipient of the American Academy of Arts and Letters 2013 Rosenthal Family Foundation Award
Named one of the National Book Foundation's "5 Under 35" fiction writers of 2012
Winner of New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award
NPR Best Short Story Collections of 2012
A Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, and Time Out New York Best Book of the year, and more . . .
Like the work of Cormac McCarthy, Denis Johnson, Richard Ford, and Annie Proulx, Battleborn represents a near-perfect confluence of sensibility and setting, and the introduction of an exceptionally powerful and original literary voice. In each of these ten unforgettable stories, Claire Vaye Watkins writes her way fearlessly into the mythology of the American West, utterly reimagining it. Her characters orbit around the region's vast spaces, winning redemption despite - and often because of - the hardship and violence they endure. The arrival of a foreigner transforms the exchange of eroticism and emotion at a prostitution ranch. A prospecting hermit discovers the limits of his rugged individualism when he tries to rescue an abused teenager. Decades after she led her best friend into a degrading encounter in a Vegas hotel room, a woman feels the aftershock. Most bravely of all, Watkins takes on – and reinvents – her own troubled legacy in a story that emerges from the mayhem and destruction of Helter Skelter. Arcing from the sweeping and sublime to the minute and personal, from Gold Rush to ghost town to desert to brothel, the collection echoes not only in its title but also in its fierce, undefeated spirit the motto of her home state.
The people in Battleborn are wounded yet compassionate, despairing and lonely, but always open to a hug, a kiss, a way out, a way in, or a fleeting moment of companionship. These aren't characters in stories, but human beings perpetually yearning for warmth. Fortunately, this book contains many stories because I read them for days. Claire Vaye Watkins has apparently sprung fully formed into the narrow pantheon of young writers willing to take narrative risks, eschewing trend and style for depth and wisdom. Entering the varied lives is akin to watching a tightrope walker high overhead, moving with steady confidence without a net. I found no missteps, no wobbles, no hesitations. As every story ended, I exhaled a long breath I didn't know I'd been holding. Watkins writes with precision and care, the sentences themselves as surprising as the events, the dialogue, and the spare description. On a purely formal level, these stories shatter the forward motion of time. They move easily and readily from the present to the past and even to the near future. For lack of a better term, there is a purity to the prose that is a constant pleasure to read. Watkins makes beautiful art by embracing the rigors of the short story form, considered the most difficult in literature, then tossing out the rules and inventing some of her own. She blends history and fact with fiction to create a new mythology of the American West the untold stories of people seeking connection with the past, the land, and each other. There is great originality in these narratives. I was deeply moved by the core of emotion within each story. The settings are fresh desert, brothel, ghost town, casino, a series of letters. But the generosity and personal sacrifices of the people are as universal as the stars at night. Chris Offutt is the author, most recently, of No Heroes: A Memoir of Coming Home. He lives in Mississippi.
I am from Reno and might be biased, but fantastic!
The words she strings together make a beautiful painting.