Book Review: Battleborn

“A flag that bears the name…battle born.”

In 2012, The Killers introduced me to the state motto of Nevada: Battle Born. Turns out that Nevada took this name after achieving statehood during the Civil War. It’s also a very fitting name for the title of Claire Vaye Watkins’ first book, a collection of short stories that take place in various places around Nevada and the Mojave Desert. It is, by far, one of my new favorite books.

The first story (“Ghosts, Cowboys”) in this collection hits the ground running with a story about the daughter of Charles Manson’s right-hand man. A quick Google search reveals that this is actually true–Claire is the daughter of Paul Watkins, Manson’s adviser and eventually testified against Manson. It appears that the story is a fictional take on her background. It’s a very good short story, so if anything, read “Ghosts, Cowboys.”

My favorite of this anthology was “The past perfect, the past continuous, the simple past.” It’s about a young man traveling abroad in the US who gets separated from his traveling companion and ends up at a brothel in the middle of nowhere Nevada. One of my favorite images from this story was the brothel owner, a gay man named Manny, taking care of his boss’ flock of peacocks. All of the peacocks are named after counties in Nevada. While CVW didn’t name this peacock in particular, I really like the idea of a peacock named Humboldt–and again, thank you Brandon Flowers for teaching me Nevada county names.

CVW writes quite evocatively. A sense of place is really apparent in this collection–Las Vegas, the Mojave, dry land, stark sunshine. Reading these stories made me feel like I was in Nevada along with the characters.

I checked this book out from the library, but after completing it, I bought it on Amazon immediately as I foresee reading it again and again. CVW’s writing is definitely worth keeping an eye on– her next book Gold Fame Citrus comes out in September, which I’ve gone ahead and pre-ordered!

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