Gold Fame Citrus – Claire Vaye Watkins
“Levi was their north. Their compass needles quivered in his direction. His stance was wide, as though he were readying himself to shoulder a great burden, a burden he would lug willingly and with grace, his little teeth winking all the while.”
The word ‘cult’ isn’t used in this book set in a future California that has no water, instead it is called a ‘colony’, but really, with a charismatic leader who dowses for water and has a harem, I think that is a cult. And Luz, a half-Mexican model, once known as ‘Baby Dunn’, the baby adopted by the Bureau of Conservation as its ‘golden child’, is caught up in this colony, this cult-like community following their dowser Levi with his dark secrets. He uses what they call “brute root”, essentially a sedative of his own making, to placate his followers, and is captivated by Luz, whom he recognizes as Baby Dunn.
Apparently, Watkins may know a thing or two about cults, as her father was once Charles Manson’s right-hand man (!).
“She was drawn to him with such simple urgent magnetism that it was impossible to attribute her feelings to trauma, circumstance, or the context of emotional catatonia into which he entered. One seemed to have nothing to do with the other.”
It’s especially relevant to me, reading this book about a future California in California, where in the past year we have had to cut lawn-watering, used bath water to flush toilets, water that I use to wash fruits and vegetables to water the plants. Thankfully it has been a rainy week, after a very dry February, so it doesn’t feel so imminent, this bleak water-less future. But it is still an exceptionally scary read for me, to think about a future like this.
“Nature had refused to offer herself to them. The water, the green, the mammalian, the tropical, the semitropical, the leafy, the verdant, the motherloving citrus, all of it was denied them and had been denied them so long that with each day, each project, it became more and more impossible to conceive of a time when it had not been denied them. The prospect of Mother Nature opening her legs and inviting Los Angeles back into her ripeness was, like the disks of water shimmering in the last foothill reservoirs patrolled by the National Guard, evaporating daily.”
As I read Gold Fame Citrus, I wondered what other books with cults there are. It is easier to find a ‘cult book” (see Flavorwire; The Telegraph; and a whole page of Goodreads book lists about cult books!) than a book that happens to have a cult in it. There are some book lists, like this one by Bustle, another via Guardian. A lot of these books though are non-fiction, nothing wrong with that, but I was hoping for a list of novels with cults in them. So here is my own.
The Leftovers – Tom Perotta
I love Tom Perotta’s books, He has a way with small town America and this one is no different, except that this time, most of America has disappeared, and when this kind of thing happens you know a cult is going to make an appearance.
The Secret History – Donna Tartt
Not exactly a cult, but cult-like perhaps? These kids do the weird rites and there’s a murder (ok not saying all cults murder, but you know). So definitely cult-like.
Station Eleven – Emily St John Mandel
Ah, the end of the world novel is sure to have a cult. Although in this case, a bit of a forgettable one.
Other books that seem to have cults but I can’t say for sure since I’ve not read them yet:
Kraken – China Mieville
Arcadia – Lauren Groff
For more, here is a Book Riot list of YA novels about cults
Some crime fiction that has religious cults (Reactions to Reading)
Do you have a novel that features cults to recommend?