The Golden State is a novel that is as much a journey inside the frazzled and confused mind of a young mother in the midst of a crisis, as it is a meditation on the fractured and dissenting state of the American identity.
We meet Daphne, mother of the toddler 'Honey', as she confronts parenting alone after her Turkish husband is tricked out of his Green Card by American immigration. Apart for eight months, they are in limbo as they wait for immigration to process their new application.
Daphne works in academia, but a tragedy within the workplace and her frustration with the endless demands of her employers drives her to take to the road with her baby. They head from San Francisco to her mother's home town of Alta Vista, where they set themselves up in the mobile home she inherited from her grandparents.
Isolated and away from the demands of her daily life, Daphne is free to confront the dissatisfaction she has been running from, as she tries to maintain her family despite the distance from her husband.
The book takes us into Daphne's mind, as she navigates the monotony and joy of parenting her daughter while isolated in a town that looks less and less like the one she visited as a child.
Alta Vista is rife with empty storefronts and faded 'For Sale' signs, as the ravages of America's failing economy, tight immigration laws and racist political rhetoric culminate in a local movement to secede from the state of California.
Kiesling writes in a stream of consciousness style with run on sentences that at first jars, but soon lulls the reader into the melody of Daphne's anxious and intelligent mind.
The juxtaposition between Daphne's narration and the dialogue in the novel is awkward at times, with the transition between the two sometimes feeling clumsy. This is exacerbated by the fact that the majority of the novel is focused on Daphne's solitude from other adults, with the second half of the book far heavier in additional characters than the first.
The novel balances a realistic depiction of the boredom and loneliness Daphne feels, whilst gently building to a narrative arch that takes the reader through the crisis of her sudden road trip, to her eventual return to her ordinary life.
For a book in which not much happens, The Golden State is packed with insight and questions. It ruminates on age, on class and culture, on the concept of 'home', on the place of language in our identities, the way that isolation can create ignorance, and most importantly, on the value of human relationships in all the forms they take.
- Zoya Patel is a Canberra author