Battleborn by Clare Vaye Watkins
Nevada is a curious place, a barometer of presidential elections - the state has an almost faultless record in voting for the winner. And whilst the gambling instinct is prominent in most of the characters Claire Vaye Watkins uses in her first collection of short stories, the main character is definitely the state itself - permissive and rich. A cult headquarters, brothel and a goldmine are just some of the uses that Vaye Watkins finds for its outposts.
Using the first of these, she fictionalises her father's involvement in the Charles Manson "family." This is a powerful opening tale that explores some of the issues brought out more fully in later stories. How you live with your history is a theme that comes up again and again; from leaving your friend in the desert to the double standards you accept in relationships that become the norm. The Nevada state motto is: "Battleborn," which comes from the state coming into being through the civil war. There is a lot of growing up going on but conversely there's not much hope in these short stories. Not always a comfortable read but worth the effort. [Sue Lawrenson]