Golden Days (California Fiction)Golden Days by Carolyn See

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

wow, i bet this book drove a lot of people crazy. people who were looking for a good post-apocalyptic nightmare, people who were looking for death and devastation, people who were looking for a polemic, those who wanted to see good (sigh) triumph over evil.

this book isn’t really any of those things, altho it contains events that would, among the unimaginative, be the perfect setup. but Golden Days gives us a nuclear holocaust with none of the above dressed in their usual attire.

this book does two things to perfection: it paints for us the california of the 70s & 80s, haloed by golden light; and it tells us how the vast majority of us will end up walking into the end of days.

when East Coast and Midwest folks call California a land of nuts & flakes, the California the protagonist lives is the one they’re talking about. California of magical thinking. California of impossible dreams. California where a person can endlessly re-invent herself until she attains her own perfection. and that’s what our protagonist does, through a couple of marriages and careers, living a life that already seems quaint: her options are no longer available to us. even after the bombs drop, she fails to become a hard-nosed realist. and oh, i so love that about her. would that we could still…

our protagonist is not what you might call political. she doesn’t obsessively follow the events that will lead to devastation. in fact, she hardly notices them at all. like most people, she goes about her days; unlike most people, she looks quite a bit harder for her own kind of happiness. still, her concerns are largely personal, not geopolitical, and among her friends a kind of obliviousness is the norm. which, i think, is true of most people. even the well-informed are not well-informed on everything, and an even smaller percentage of the well-informed are habituated to sustained critical thinking (if the news tells me X, how do i know it’s true? and if it is true, what does it imply? etc.). so even when the end is nigh, she’s out looking for a really great lunch rather than a sturdy underground shelter.

and it may be hard to swallow, but i’m pretty convinced that’s how most people would be.

you know how little kids, when imagining scenarios of them versus some larger, stronger opponent, will start tossing out improbable scenarios? “ya, and then i’ll get a bunch of vegetable oil, and i’ll throw it on the ground, and he’ll slip when he runs at me and fall and then i’ll jump him!” i bet most people’s inner disaster scenarios are something like that. but when the moment actually arrives, one finds the vegetable oil in short supply, and what else is there to do? go have a really fine lunch, the best one to be found.

in the end this is a terribly optimistic book, optimistic in the way (only, i suspect) a Californian can be. it paints a California that feels so true to the time, and holds close what California is and will always be about: the beauty, and utility, of dreams.