Guest List

Edan Lepucki’s Artifacts of California

Edan Lepucki's new novel "California" centers on a couple who have fled a dystopic near-future Los Angeles. The author gives us a list of other art about her home state and all its sunny weirdness.

Hello, my name is Edan Lepucki. “California” takes place about 40 or 50 years in the future. It’s about a husband and wife who leave a devastating, ruined Los Angeles to go live by themselves in the wilderness.

California is always the first in a lot of things. You know: to put avocado on your sandwiches, to do isometric exercises to look toned… and I think the end of the world will also occur in California first. We’re always the first.

So here’s a list of cultural artifacts that are either about California, inspired by California, or encapsulate the California state of mind.

“East of Eden” by John Steinbeck

The first one is “East of Eden” by John Steinbeck, published in 1952.  This is one of my favorite, big, juicy, epic novels. And it’s about really one family, two brothers. And I gotta say, I love their mother — who they don’t know is their mother — and she runs a brothel, and she’s just pure monstrous evil.

My parents are from New Jersey and they believe that California is the promised land, that nothing can go wrong here, maybe because it doesn’t snow. And that’s in “East of Eden”: this notion of this family that can come to a far-off western state and remake themselves. But the familial drama in the book is so far from Edenic. It’s not paradise there.  And it’s very, very hard to make it in California.

“California” by Rufus Wainwright

My next pick is the song “California” by Rufus Wainwright from his album “Poses.”

“You’re such a wonder that I think I’ll stay in bed…” He’s a better singer than I am.

I chose this song because I think so much of California is about what outsiders think of California. Wainwright’s nasally dismissal of California rings very true for me as a native. You know, “big time rollers/part time models/thousands suffer whiffs of Freon.”

I think it gets at this notion of New Yorkers trying to wrap their head around what goes on in California. Every time I go outside of California, I get funny questions like, “Oh, doesn’t everyone wake up before dawn in California?” I think this song gets at it really wonderfully in a really funny way. “I’m just gonna go to bed.”  Sort of like, “I just can’t handle you, I can’t handle this state.”

“Six Feet Under” by Alan Ball

The next item on my list is “Six Feet Under,” the HBO show created by Alan Ball about the Fisher family, who own a funeral home in L.A. I love the darkness of this show, you know, the fact that there’s so much about death there, and yet that’s counteracted with the light of L.A. and the sunniness of it.

There is also a surreal quality to the show, where some of the family members will occasionally imagine a dead person speaking.  And I do wonder, how can a place that has such natural beauty also be a manufacturer of such fantastical narratives?  You know, my father has this enormous succulent garden with these really insane outer space kind of plants. The more you see that, perhaps you think, “Well, if I can have a plant like this, then why can’t I have a story like this?”