If you were one of my former Goodreads friends, you may have read this review already. Well, here's a spruced up version I wrote for my monthly staff pick at the store in an attempt to actually sell the damn thing. I agonized over this review the first time...and I agonized over it again the second time. Anyways, here it is.
Battleborn by Claire Vaye Watkins
Okay, halfway through this review, you're gonna ask yourself, "Why is she even recommending this book?" Just hear me out, okay?
Another reviewer somewhere said, "Watkins shows promise." I think that's a great way to describe this debut collection. I liked many of these stories, absolutely LOVED one or two (and I mean loved with every fiber of my being-LOVED), and was frustrated by the rest.
Sometimes I really trusted Watkins, was drawn in by her obvious need to find hope in the hopeless. But then her genuineness would slip away to reveal a different author, a less confident author, an author working too hard at being provocative. Sure, sex and violence and drugs and prostitution and infidelity are "edgy"; or to use that horribly overused and demeaning adjective (but only actually used to describe a female author when she dares enter the "realm" of "male" writers)..."gritty" (please note all " " in that last sentence are meant to be read as enthusiastically, sarcastic air quotes...and sorry for all the parenthesis). But a story doesn't become provocative simply by their inclusion and in truth, she's at her most provocative and genuine, when her subjects aren't so "edgy". Not surprisingly, Watkins really shines when she isn't working so hard. Most of the time I just wanted her to get out of her own way, because she does have such...you know, promise. So try Graceland and The Diggings for some phenomenal writing.
However, what she does do well, she does really well. Her characters are flawed and unlikable in just the right ways, her subjects unique, and sometimes her words simply soar. But what she does best is write about the desert. For as much as a story would be pissing me off, it would be dragging me in with the smell of creosote; the shimmer of heat waves; and that great, big, western sky stretching on for miles. The desert does something to a person, burrows in deep and never leaves. And to be able to capture that and the raw ache and emptiness of missing the desert when not there; that, I find truly remarkable. Watkins is a child of the desert and she writes it well.
I read these stories compulsively, and they are really very good...and if the first part of this review doesn't indicate that it's because I think they could be so much better, I think she could be really great. I DO think she's phenomenal, and she certainly knows her way around a sentence, AND this is the best new book I've read all year. UGH! What this terribly muddled review is trying to tell you is to read this book; it might make you crazy, it will make you cry, and you may just slam it shut from time to time. But you're gonna be compelled to open it back up, again and again. You won't be able to stay away. People, this is your chance to get in on the ground floor of something big...Claire Vaye Watkins is gonna be huge.
And now, won't you please enjoy the song Battle Born, off the album Battle Born, while you read my review of the completely unrelated book, Battleborn. Bonus: if you watch the whole video (and you really should) or if you fast forward to 8:44, you'll see the moment that Brandon Flowers and I brush hands...and the world was never the same again.