Anyone who knows Nevada as ‘The Battle Born State’ will understand immediately that Claire Vaye Watkins’s debut story collection is about environment. The people she writes about aren’t just characters, they’re inhabitants of a landscape. Events don’t simply transpire in a convenient locale, they’re spurred by the dry heat or stimulated by the encroaching desert.
The stories in Battleborn take many forms: a sequence of yearning epistles sent to a man whose belongings were abandoned on the roadside; a heartbroken woman imagining plaques that catalogue her break-up as though it were a museum exhibit; and in one of the few stories set outside of Watkins’s home state, a genre fable about the 1849 California gold rush and its attendant ‘gold fever’.
Watkins also addresses what might be the elephant in the room for history buffs and/or creeps – her father’s involvement with Charles Manson – with a seemingly autobiographical story that finds a fictional Claire fending off the advances of a Hollywood producer.