The end of American civilization has come and gone, and a young married couple has fled Los Angeles to live in the wilderness in Lepucki’s debut novel.
Cal and Frida, alone in the woods, provide for themselves—but once Frida becomes pregnant, finding more of civilization’s refugees becomes important, especially since their only neighbors have committed suicide. They find an encampment surrounded by spikes and are invited to be candidates for the group. They will stay with the community, making friends and learning the ropes, until the other commune members vote on whether they should stay or leave. Soon they discover there are dangers even in this relatively secure place. They notice there are no children in the group, so they hide Frida’s pregnancy. Other unsettling details emerge as the couple tries to win the commune over—Frida by baking, Cal by serving as a member of the community counsel. The color red is forbidden. Surprisingly luxurious supplies arrive—but from where? The counsel is full of secrets, and the leader forbids Cal from sharing them with Frida. One character, thought to have died in a suicide bombing before Cal and Frida struck out for the wild, is miraculously alive at the commune, after the couple spent many pages grappling with his death. This is a misstep on Lepucki's part, showing the reader that she isn’t above bending the rules, which makes it more difficult to feel real concern for Cal and Frida. They will never be in too much trouble; Lepucki won’t allow it. The chapters alternate between Cal’s point of view and Frida’s and are heavy on flashbacks that bog down an otherwise tense narrative of survival.
This has the bones of an excellent book, but, sadly, an untenable amount of flab is covering them.