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.
About Claire Vaye Watkins
Claire Vaye Watkins was born in Death Valley and raised in the Nevada desert. Her work has appeared in Granta, The Paris Review, The Hopkins Review, Hobart, One Story, Ploughshares, and Las Vegas Weekly. She is an assistant professor at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania.
The epistolary story, “The Last Thing We Need,” chronicles the letters of Thomas Grey to one Duane Moser after the correspondent finds a lost stash of prescriptions, a collection of letters and an abandoned ’66 Chevelle out in the desert. “Rondine Al Nido” uncovers a young woman’s secret shame. If there’s an anomaly in the collection, it’s “The Diggings,” a story about the Gold Rush of 1849 and the madness of greed. It’s a fine story but feels out of place among those that surround it. There are two here that are flat-out outstanding. “The Archivist” is a spare, unflinching story about the desolation of loss. “There was no salve for the space he left,” is an amazing opening line for this heartbreaker about a woman building a shrine to the flimflam man she loved and lost. Watkins builds a fully formed world in “The Past Perfect, The Past Continuous, The Simple Past,” in which a beautiful young Italian boy wreaks emotional havoc on the workers of the brothel he stumbles into by accident. – Kirkus Reviews
Gold Mine: The Rugged Love Stories of Claire Vaye Watkins’ Battleborn
The Millions Book Review – July 30, 2012 (Excerpt)
Joan Didion writes in her essay “The White Album” that the cultural paranoia known as “the Sixties” had ended — or rather been fulfilled — on August 9, 1969. That night, four members of Charles Manson’s “Family” broke into 10050 Cielo Drive and stabbed Sharon Tate Polanski, eight months pregnant, a total of sixteen times. Shortly after, as Paul Watkins and other members of the Manson Family watched a television report of the murders, somebody turned to him and said, “Wouldn’t it be somethin’ if old Charlie did that?”
Paul Watkins had been just out of high school when he joined the Manson Family. He was a former class president with a handsome face, and a smile sweet enough to recruit young girls to the commune. After the Manson murders, Watkins would ultimately testify against Charles Manson. He would outlive the Sixties. He would become president of the Death Valley Chamber of Commerce, appear on CNN, raise two daughters. On his deathbed, he would tape a video for his daughters, beginning with, “Here I am, my girls. I want you to know how much I loved you. I want you to know who I was.”
This is not the story his daughter Claire Vaye Watkins tells in “Ghost, Cowboys,” which opens her sweeping debut story collection Battleborn. Instead, “Ghost, Cowboys” explores the stories from Death Valley as a whole, in which her own family history plays only a small episode.
The narrator begins her story in 1859, when a man named Charles Fuller builds a toll bridge that was to become Reno decades later. Then, the narrator flashes forward to 1941, when George Spahnconverts his ranch into a lucrative movie set. And yet again to 1968, when a group of ten hitchhikers offer George to “help” with chores if he gives them permission to “camp out” in the empty set buildings. Two of those ten are the characters Charles Manson and Paul Watkins. [Read the full article...]
When the Dust Settles - ‘Battleborn,’ by Claire Vaye Watkins
The New York Times Book Review – September 21, 2012 (Excerpt)
The most notable feature of “Battleborn,” the first story collection by Claire Vaye Watkins, is its physical landscape, especially as it affects the people who stake their claims on its inhospitable terrain. The reader is introduced to Reno’s founders, both the notorious and the anonymous; to figures who are insiders as well as outsiders; to personalities with historical pedigrees and to ones concocted to perfectly fit the crime. The point of view roams, but the Nevada setting provides a hard ground on which the reader counts for stability. Although the individual stories stand alone, together they tell the tale of a place, and of the population that thrives and perishes therein.
“Ghosts, Cowboys,” which opens the collection, can be read as a literary fractal of the book over all. The historical sits comfortably alongside the contemporary, and the factual nicely supplements the fictional. With this beginning, Watkins sets the terms for the reader’s experience of the book, establishing the recurrent concerns of the collection: storytelling and myth-busting, knowing the past and surviving the present. [Read the full article...]
THE SABRINA STRONG SERIES by LORELEI BELL