ENG 350 Week 1 – California Chapters 1-7

The opening of California (by Edan Lepucki) has been refreshing. Growing up with media such as Captain Planet and Ferngully, I’ve been inoculated against the over-the-top personal pleas for the average person doing what they can to fix whatever is wrong with the environment that week. If you, average American child, do not recycle that can, you are leading us to the environmental apocalypse! California acknowledges that the problem isn’t the average American—it’s the rich capitalist, the corporation—that’s causing the problems. It is, however, the average American that suffers.

Frida fawns over her artifacts, including the like-new turkey baster, as reminders of what life was before it began to end. Though as the story progresses, we learn that the end was already there. The irreversible causes had already had their effect, and it was just a matter of time before everyone felt them. Resources became more and more scarce, and only the rich could afford them. Frida’s artifacts seem less like symbols of what her life was, but more like what life should have been had humanity cared enough to not destroy itself. It’s more of a hope that they could return to the ideal, should they come across some wonderful fix or some way to get into the Communities.

Naming their plot of land the Afterlife is a bit like holding on to her collection of objects. While the move there was Frida and Cal’s abandonment of the world, they still call it something based on their interpretation of the world. But the name also shows their acceptance that they really can’t salvage the world in any way. To not call it “Eden” is an admission that the move was not for a new beginning; it was for a new ending. Rather than be just another body in an alley outside a hospital, unable to afford care, they chose to be away from everything and care only for themselves. They threw themselves to the wild knowing full well they could not tame anything.

Lepuki’s descriptions of the wilds reclaiming urban centers and man-made objects makes something extremely clear about global warming and its effects on humanity: the world will continue even if we cannot live in it. Super-storms and other “acts of God” are already present and destroying civilization’s mark upon the world; they’re no different in California. Cal’s parents in Cleveland succumbed to harsh blizzards and the west coast is devastated by other natural events. Being able to ignore it is a privilege for the wealthy, but they are only ignoring what will eventually happen to them.

Reading the beginning of this book I was reminded often of the Fallout series; an eternally wasteful USA drains the world of its resources and goodwill, and succumbs to the events they cannot control. Though it is nuclear war in Fallout, the anarchic, community-based societies that follow the destruction are similar. The isolationists, the raiders/pirates, the feral communities are present in both the Fallout games and California.

Frida and Cal’s devotion to each other is not total—while they are clearly not physically unfaithful, they each, for their own reasons, choose to keep their emotions and thoughts from each other. It is strange that they would do so considering a fear of what the other might think (such as with Frida’s drug use) is a product of a society in which they no longer participate. Even marriage is a relic of this society, just as Frida’s artifacts are.

There is so much that can be said even in these first few chapters about Lepucki’s take on what would happen during the social apocalypse, especially since I haven’t even mention Micah yet. Micah (and his supposed death) is a huge catalyst for both Frida and Cal in the story; his return in chapter 8 intrigues me.

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