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Mirkat Always Reading

I'm always reading something, usually multiple books at a time.

Currently reading

One Hundred Years of Solitude (Audio)
Gabriel García Márquez, John Lee

The Things That Bothered Me

California - Emma Galvin, Edan Lepucki

As I mentioned in my review of this book, I've been wanting to do a more detailed post about things that really bothered me about this book.  I wanted to keep my review free of spoilers, and in contrast, this post will have ALL THE SPOILERS.  To protect readers who don't want to stumble across spoilers, I will double-hide them:  beneath a cut and spoiler tags.





Many people have discussed this in reviews (I can't stop reading reviews of this!), so I don't feel so alone:  THE STUPID TURKEY BASTER.  Okay, so Frida has a super-shiny, special, expensive TURKEY BASTER.  In the latter days of civilization, when it was still possible to shop in stores but no longer possible to use cash (melted-down gold only!), Frida wasted used some of her and husband Cal's gold to purchase this highly impractical yet somehow irresistibly beautiful item from a store that I guess was supposed be like a Williams-Sonoma. She has kept the existence of the magical baster a secret from her husband, because when they bugged out of LA, they were supposed to carry necessities only, and she is certain that if he knew about her beloved baster, he'd confiscate it for sure!  So, she keeps the stupid baster, wrapped up in old Christmas wrapping paper, hidden with a collection of her "artifacts."  When Cal is out foraging or hunting/trapping, Frida likes to take out the stupid object and admire it.  It is made of glass, still has it tag, and it makes her think of Thanksgiving. When she and Cal present themselves to the nearest settlement, she imagines that this super-special turkey baster will work like currency and get them accepted lickity-split!  And then there isn't even a good payoff, as ultimately we get something like "Yeah, that's a nice one, but we already have one, so we don't need that one."




Before Sandy and Bo reveal themselves to Frida and Cal, Sandy spends a lot of time watching them.  And a lot of the time, what they are doing while unknowingly being watched is having sex.  Outside.  (They think they're alone.)  And Sandy watches intently enough to know that their birth-control method of choice is the withdrawal method.  Sandy, who has two kids, is soon chiding Frida, telling her that she really should just let Cal impregnate her already.  It's her duty to have kids!  And although Frida objects to that perspective and thinks that having children in their post-apocalypse would be a terrible idea, she suddenly decides no more "pulling out" for her and Cal!  Then it's a big surprise when she's "late."


Oh, and before befriending Sandy, Frida never managed to keep track of her cycles.  They were a big mystery and surprise to her.  Later, her brother Michal (more creepiness here) jokes with Cal about how Frida had been so bad about keeping track of her cycles that she ruined a pair of underwear every month.  And Cal can't even deny it.  (So much ew, on so many levels.)  Then she starts tracking them, using a makeshift calendar that Sandy helps her set up, and she is startled to realize that her cycles are super-regular to the point that they are "textbook."




August comes by once a month to trade/sell goods.  After Frida's reveal to Cal about possibly/probably being pregnant, the couple mutually decides that Frida really needs to tell August about the pregnancy, because he'll be inclined to give them a good deal on items that they'll need.  And because reasons, they agree that this is a conversation that should happen without Cal present, so he wanders off for a contrived purpose the next time August appears.  Then, while Frida is talking to August, rambling really, she keeps thinking that she really must come out and tell him about her pregnancy.  Then she rambles some more.  Thinks it again.  Trades a bra for two Vicodin, bites off half a pill, swallows it, hands back 1.5 pills, tells him all about her brother Micah the suicide bomber, thinks some more about how much she really needs to tell him.  And she never does.  It wasn't long before I realized that she was just never going to tell him (though the scene doesn't come right out and say so, it's confirmed later).  Cal wanders home and asks about August's reaction to her news.  Instead of answering honestly, she pretends that she told him and that he didn't really have much of a reaction at all.  And this is typical of these two and their great relationship. 




I think that Cal and Frida are the only ones who find the big reveal about Micah being alive and leading "The Land" surprising.  As soon as Sailor makes the "Wait until he hears" comment, I guessed "he" could only be Micah.  And then two seconds later, when people are apparently referring to a mysterious "Mikey"  (actually Mic. E), that just clinched it.  Are these "surprise" returns from the dead ever surprising anymore?




So, because stupid-Frida had allowed stupid-Cal to think she'd revealed her pregnancy to August, he assumed Micah must know.  Because even if Frida had not told him (and of course he doesn't know whether she did or not, because Frida and Cal don't talk about anything of substance), August would surely have told Micah about the gestating bun.  So he makes an accidental reveal, not just to August and Micah, but to the other men attending their Morning Meeting.




So they are on a first-name basis with their mom, and yet their dad is "Dada."  No, this is never explained.  Also, I spent most of the book thinking that "Hilda" and "Dada" were dead, but a long, long way into it, Micah shares that they are just fine and living in one of the communities.  They had given their home to "The Group" and were secreted away in exchange.




For all her not revealing the pregnancy, Frida picks the big moment after the members of The Land have voted to allow her and Cal to stay to announce to all that she is pregnant.  After she'd heard the sad stories from Anika about how Micah had induced everyone with children to send them to the Community called The Pines--the babies to be adopted and the older kids to attend a boarding trade school/orphanage.  She somehow imagined that this would go well, or at least some people would be happy for her and welcome a new baby into their population. (Also, we are supposed to believe that all the parents of The Land just gave up their kids because Micah said so.)




After Frida's ill-timed reveal fails and they are forced out, Micah and August arrange  for them to have new lives in The Pines.  Why didn't they just set that up as soon as Cal accidentally revealed that Frida was pregnant?




In one of their talks, Micah reveals to Cal that The Land and The Pines have a special relationship.  They trade with one another; August travels there regularly, and Micah also makes the trip occasionally.  Turns out that the terroristic stunts of Micah and his Group actually served communities such as The Pines, because they caused people to value safety harder than ever.  But Micah hasn't abandoned his old ideas.  He gripes that safety should be a right for everyone, and Cal cannot disagree.  Micah has kept in touch with the kids being taught a trade in The Pines--kind of a long-con type of thing while Micah develops a plan to undermine the community.  He has decided that he'd like to get his minions at The Land into bomb development for ultimate use against The Pines, but Cal talks him out of that.  Along the way, we also learn that Micah's ex-girlfriend Toni--the one who recruited him into The Group when he and Cal were college students at Plank, learning agriculture, philosophy, and literary theory--is installed into a leadership position in The Pines.


When Cal and Frida are sent to The Pines, August tells them that they are to have "a role" in whatever "plan" Micah devises.  But that's an unresolved thread--one more reason I thought that this book must be the first installment in a trilogy.


Also, the book gestures toward commentary on a reversion to traditional gender roles, but that, too, stays undeveloped.  Frida gripes that only men work security in The Land.  Frida, before she shits the bed with her "pregnancy" reveal, becomes valued in The Land for her baking abilities.  In The Pines, Cal and Frida soon learn that most families have working dads and stay-at-home moms.  Toni somehow has a leadership position, as mentioned above, but there is no exploration/explanation as to how/why that has happened.  Also nothing about the universal acceptance of the old gender roles.


As I mentioned in my review, the book raised interesting ideas without any pay-off for them.  Very frustrating.


Those are things that bothered me, and I am sure I am forgetting others.  Would love to have a discussion about this book in the comments, if anyone is interested.  I guess it's a credit to Lepucki that I'm giving her book this much thought, even if it's coming out in the form of gripes!


(Side note:  every time I've typed "Frida," my fingers have wanted to/often did type "Friday.")

(show spoiler)