The Golden State

The Golden State

In Lydia Kiesling’s razor-sharp debut novel, The Golden State, we accompany Daphne, a young mother on the edge of a breakdown, as she flees her sensible but strained life in San Francisco for the high desert of Altavista with her toddler, Honey. Bucking under the weight of being a single parent―her Turkish husband is unable to return to the United States because of a “proc...

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Title:The Golden State
Author:Lydia Kiesling
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Edition Language:English

The Golden State Reviews

  • Tyler Goodson

    The Golden State is a novel of sparse landscape and deep emotion. When Daphne and her baby drive to the high desert of Northern California, they are alone in a way that feels enervating and dangerous. Daphne is written with such a strong sense of feeling, it inevitably carries over to the reader. You are filled with love for Honey, Engin, the old crone Alice, and hate for the unfairness of the situation they have found themselves in. I was so sad for this novel to end.

  • Colleen

    My thoughts on this brilliant, challenging, innovative novel are not yet fully formed but will eventually be impossible to contain in a space as small as this text box.

    For now, I'll say that this work is a high-water mark in the canon of motherhood books. And yet, to reduce it to a "motherhood book" does a great disservice to it, to Kiesling's skill as a writer, and to the people who cringe at the thought of reading something described that way, who are exactly the people who need to read it.

    S

    My thoughts on this brilliant, challenging, innovative novel are not yet fully formed but will eventually be impossible to contain in a space as small as this text box.

    For now, I'll say that this work is a high-water mark in the canon of motherhood books. And yet, to reduce it to a "motherhood book" does a great disservice to it, to Kiesling's skill as a writer, and to the people who cringe at the thought of reading something described that way, who are exactly the people who need to read it.

    Simply put, this book is essential reading about the human experience. Though broader in scope and formally quite different, it's spiritually kin to two of my other favorites, Elisa Albert's

    and Jenny Offill's

    .

    It is not just a novel written by a woman, with a female protagonist, about female experiences. This book goes deeper--it fully inhabits the language of women, and of modern motherhood specifically, along the lines of what Ursula K. LeGuin called the "mother tongue." Kiesling foregoes commas, employs breathless run-ons, cycles through repetitive worries and anxieties and BabyCenter forums, and carries on eerily familiar one-sided conversations with her daughter that shuttle unconsciously from third person ("Mommy's coming right back") to first person plural ("That's not what we do to flowers, gentle, gentle") to straight-up desperation ("look look look Honey, big boats, BIG BOATS").

    There is a plot that propels the story, but the cumulative effect of these language choices is that The Golden State SLAYS at the sentence level. Kiesling's creative choices create closeness, empathy, and a beauty that feels downright stifling at times (hey, just like parenthood).

  • Jaclyn Crupi

    Kiesling did not come to play. If her aim was to evoke the tedium and bright love of parenting, the infernal frustration of dealing with racist and Islamophobic bureaucracy, the stomach-dropping feeling of complicity in hazy situations, she has nailed it. I love novels where the plot is launched with a woman running away from her life and Daphne is such a well-drawn character she pulls you in and suddenly you care deeply about her, baby Honey and the people they meet.

  • Jim

    Imagine if Holden Caulfield was a late twenty-something woman with a baby.

    Or...

    "On The Road" but with a baby in the backseat.

    Or...

    Imagine if the narrator from "Notes From Underground" meandered about and gave introspective detail and all the while was feeding, caring, cleaning, changing a baby.

    That's "The Golden State."

    Kiesling's novel resonated with me as very similar to Daphne (the narrator) I too traveled around Quincy to Susanville with a one-year old while I was wondering who am I, what's l

    Imagine if Holden Caulfield was a late twenty-something woman with a baby.

    Or...

    "On The Road" but with a baby in the backseat.

    Or...

    Imagine if the narrator from "Notes From Underground" meandered about and gave introspective detail and all the while was feeding, caring, cleaning, changing a baby.

    That's "The Golden State."

    Kiesling's novel resonated with me as very similar to Daphne (the narrator) I too traveled around Quincy to Susanville with a one-year old while I was wondering who am I, what's life all about, and where's the person I married? I've never seen captured so well the dread, boredom, and relentless dedication one has for caring for a baby solo while distracted with life in general - the thoughts that fly through the mind at a steady pace. Kiesling captures this frantic volatile state with so much fun.

    "The Golden State" is an existential road trip. Invariably culminating in one lost soul - Daphne - joining forces with another wayward soul.

    If you took the baby out of this novel it would be a cliche trope of someone singing the Talking Heads line: "This is not my beautiful house! ... This is not my beautiful wife! ... How did I get here?"

    Maybe Holden Caulfield should have been pushing a stroller around Manhattan.

  • Susie | Novel Visits

    {My Thoughts}

    What Worked For Me

    Kiesling Nailed New Motherhood – The Golden State is Daphne’s story and one of the many things you should know about Daphne is that she’s the mother of a 16-month old. She adores her daughter, Honey, but she’s also been going it completely alone for the last 8 months. Kiesling got all that right, weaving Daphne’s story together beautifully, but what stood out to me was how right she got motherhood. That back-and-forth between overwhelming delight in her child and t

    {My Thoughts}

    What Worked For Me

    Kiesling Nailed New Motherhood – The Golden State is Daphne’s story and one of the many things you should know about Daphne is that she’s the mother of a 16-month old. She adores her daughter, Honey, but she’s also been going it completely alone for the last 8 months. Kiesling got all that right, weaving Daphne’s story together beautifully, but what stood out to me was how right she got motherhood. That back-and-forth between overwhelming delight in her child and the mind-numbing boredom and monotony of parenting a toddler was SO real. Daphne marked her days with times and even after doing what seemed like a huge amount, little time had passed. She couldn’t wait for Honey to go down for a nap, yet an hour later she found herself tempted to wake her child. Haven’t we all been there? I loved that Kiesling included so many first-time-mom woes like not being able to properly attach a rear-facing car seat, and worrying about just how many cheese sticks are too many.

    Tangled Communications – Daphne is an extremely smart woman who finds herself alone after her Turkish husband, Elgin, has his Green Card revoked. The tangle of paperwork seems endless and during that he’s back in Turkey and she’s in the U.S. trying to handle everything AND keep him involved in Honey’s life and alive in her own heart. They communicate daily via Skype, which Daphne keenly observes is both a blessing and a curse.

    “Maybe the thing really is that now we have these tools there’s the expectation that you will always be in touch. Overseas we called my grandparents every two weeks and we wrote letters and that was it and it was just easier than doing this Skype dance with all its awful reminders that the person you want to be here is not here. But Honey has to see her father’s face as much as she can while he’s not there, I think, and start crying, and I’m proud of myself because I think it’s been about two days since the last time I cried”

    Raw Emotion – As you can see from the end of the above quote, Daphne is a woman at an emotional crossroads in her life. She knows something has to change, but no path she can see is clear and that anguish comes through beautifully in her story. Daphne’s a mess, as she should be. Life decisions are hard, especially when you feel alone. In fleeing to the comfort of the high-desert mobile home her grandparents once owned, Daphne is hoping somehow, beyond all logic, she’ll finally be able to make a decision. She’s long been burdened with the weight of not only her own life, but Honey’s and Elgin’s resting squarely on her shoulders. I felt Kiesling portrayed Daphne’s sorrow and pain in ways that were always real and sometimes unexpected.

    What Didn’t

    A Different Sort of Writing Style – Lydia Kiesling’s style of writing took some getting used to. She tends to write very, very long sentences and can be sparse on the use of commas. More than once I needed to go back and reread to make sure I’d captured the full meaning from such a sentence. I was particularly distracted by commas not being used to separate items in a series, which happened too often. On the positive punctuation side, she did use quotation marks! At times, I also found her writing a little on the pretentious side, using pharasing that would have benefited from more simplicity.

    {The Final Assessment}

    The Golden State was the first book I read from my Fall Preview 2018, so it had some big expectations to live up to. I was hoping for a fresh take on motherhood amidst a distinct California setting and that’s exactly what I got. Kiesling’s powerful story of isolation, loneliness, and hope far outweighed its few flaws. I consider The Golden State a fabulous kickoff to my fall reading and will look forward to more from this debut author.

    Note: I received a copy of this book from MCD Books (via NetGalley) in exchange for my honest review.

    Original Source:

  • Mattia Ravasi

    Splendidly crafted portrait of a stressed mind going through a breakdown. Terrible advertisement for the actual Golden State.

  • Autumn

    I saw a review of this book that said they didn’t like the stream of consciousness or lack of punctuation. This made me laugh because that’s exactly why people love ULYSSES. In many ways, this book is like ULYSSES. It’s nine days in the life of a 30-something who’s trying to juggle raising a child and helping her Turkish husband get his green card back. But it’s actually more than that. It’s about the racism at the heart of this country (yes, even in California) and the search for meaning. Which

    I saw a review of this book that said they didn’t like the stream of consciousness or lack of punctuation. This made me laugh because that’s exactly why people love ULYSSES. In many ways, this book is like ULYSSES. It’s nine days in the life of a 30-something who’s trying to juggle raising a child and helping her Turkish husband get his green card back. But it’s actually more than that. It’s about the racism at the heart of this country (yes, even in California) and the search for meaning. Which is more than can be said for ULYSSES. It’s also an amazing and realistic look at motherhood where motherhood is not an art form or a burden but just a thing that is. And where the mother realizes that the child is her own person. So good. Far exceeded my expectations.

  • Mary Robinson

    While I enjoyed the plot and character development in "The Golden State" by Lydia Kiesling, the first few chapters were tough reading as I adapted to the author's style (lack of punctuation (particularly commas), run on sentences, stream of conscious narrative). The intensely told story of Daphne, a young mother who's husband has been sent back to Turkey due to an "input error" on his green card, of sorts. She works for a university foundation, assisting students who wish to study in Asia (among

    While I enjoyed the plot and character development in "The Golden State" by Lydia Kiesling, the first few chapters were tough reading as I adapted to the author's style (lack of punctuation (particularly commas), run on sentences, stream of conscious narrative). The intensely told story of Daphne, a young mother who's husband has been sent back to Turkey due to an "input error" on his green card, of sorts. She works for a university foundation, assisting students who wish to study in Asia (among other administrative tasks) and simply walks out of her job one day to return to the home she inherited from her grandparents and mother. The entire novel covers slightly more than a week, while Daphne and her daughter Honey learn of the rural area and interact with new and old acquaintances. There is a side plot of a secessionist movement seeking to split up the state of California and one involving an elderly woman navigating her past, all while Daphne and Honey contemplate next steps. The ending is a little unsatisfying, but this is a thought provoking read which would work well for literary-minded book discussion groups.

  • Lolly K Dandeneau

    via my blog:

    “This is my house, ” I say aloud, and everything in the house contradicts me, down to its dubious foundation.

    It is to this house in the desert of Altavista with her baby girl Honey that Daphne flees, leaving behind her work at the University of San Francisco, a student who has never quite finished her PhD despite encouragement from those around her because “working at the institute has amply illustrated the precarious sh*tshow that is a life of

    via my blog:

    “This is my house, ” I say aloud, and everything in the house contradicts me, down to its dubious foundation.

    It is to this house in the desert of Altavista with her baby girl Honey that Daphne flees, leaving behind her work at the University of San Francisco, a student who has never quite finished her PhD despite encouragement from those around her because “working at the institute has amply illustrated the precarious sh*tshow that is a life of the mind”. She is a single mother for all intents and purposes as her Turkish husband, Engin is trapped by a ‘processing error’ and cannot return to the United States of America. The novel follows Daphne and Honey through the desolation their lives have become in Engin’s absence. Single despite the occasional Skype with Honey’s daddy, a tiresome thing, Skype when her life is already consumed by meeting her child’s needs and demands. A desert seems a fitting place, because this is a sort of desert period for Daphne. The house is her grandparent’s mobile home, her mother is dead and it’s hers now. Her family had lived there for a long time, settled and rooted but this life doesn’t fit her.

    You can’t expect a lot of dialogue between a baby and her mother and yet Kiesling manages to make Honey a solid person, whether she is cranky and whiney or like on Day 5 kissing her mommy’s face awake. That’s how we bond though, without words and there is a beautiful intimacy in it. It gets boring at times, and you feel as bogged down as she does but at least the baby is always real, present unlike so many stories where children are unnaturally silent the entire novel. I dont’ think such children exist in reality. Right now, ‘conversations are work’ and Daphne seems to both welcome and hate this self-imposed exile. She thinks Ellery and Maryam, having met their doom and compares the young women to her own very much alive child. But it’s a thought she doesn’t like to feed on, and in some strange way may shoulder a bit of blame for, or maybe not, can you bear the blame of fate’s whims? She should be opening emails, dealing with whatever mess she has jumped ship from back at the university, but she cannot find the wherewithal do it. She is in a sort of strange in-between time so many mother’s are familiar with after the birth of a child. Daphne plus one.

    She meets the locals, and explains she works for an institute that studies Islamic studies which naturally begs the question, “Like Isis?” Daphne studies the language, and how countries share an islamic past. Bring up Muslim and hackles raise with a cry of Isis, which is often a shamefully believeable reaction in our country. She absolutely defends her husband and all the Muslims who don’t go around ‘blowing people up’ and plotting terrorism, yet this also isn’t the point of the novel. Despite this, she and Cindy become friends of sorts, even though she doesn’t agree with her ‘ideology.’ The biggest group of people are ‘State of Jeffersoners’, not the sort of group her husband Engin (if he ever returns to her) will be able to tolerate. The possibility of a life where her family’s people have been since the 1800’s just may not be a viable option for her. She gets caught up, somewhat, in the secessionists who don’t want to deal with ‘urban problems’. Generations of people who feel the government is robbing them of the resources they’ve always had to themselves. She meets an old ‘auntie-type’ Alice, who has been to Turkey and serves as a sort of stand in grandma, support she surely lacks with Engin scattered to the wind and the rest of her family dead. A woman who has had much loss and sadness of her own, that far surpasses anything Daphne is struggling with. They take up together on a trip and everything goes sour, this is the climactic moment in an otherwise quiet story.

    The story touched on xenophobia here and there, but not as much as you would expect. I was disappointed that Engin was as absent for me as he seems to be for Honey and Daphne. I wondered if some bone thrown my way about their love would have made me care more. Engin aside, I enjoyed the tender moments as much as the exasperating ones between Daphne and Honey. The writing is beautiful but the story did drag often and I usually enjoy being a visitor in a character’s mind. Sometimes I felt as exhausted as Daphne. Good but nothing much happens until the very end.

    Publication Date: September 4, 2018

    Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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