The head-turning debut from one of the National Book Foundation's "5 Under 35" fiction writers for 2012
In ten unforgettable stories, Claire Vaye Watkins takes on the mythology of the American West, fearlessly reimagining it. Her characters orbit around the region’s vast spaces, winning redemption despite—and often because of—the hardship and violence they encounter.
The arrival of a foreigner transforms the exchange of eroticism and emotion at a sex ranch. A prospecting hermit discovers the limits of his rugged individualism when he tries to rescue a teenager left for dead in the desert. Decades after she coaxed her best friend into a degrading encounter in a Vegas hotel room, a woman feels the aftershock. Most bravely of all, Watkins revisits—and reinvents—her own troubled legacy, in a story that emerges from the mayhem and destruction of the Manson family.
Like the work of Cormac McCarthy, Denis Johnson, Richard Ford, and Annie Proulx, Battleborn represents a near-perfect confluence of sensibility and setting, and the introduction of an exceptionally powerful and original literary voice.
"The most captivating voice to come out of the West since Annie Proulx… though it's to early Didion that [Watkins] bears comparison for her arid humor and cut-to-the-chase knowingness." –Vogue
“A real treat… Through remarkably assured writing that manages to be both bristly and brittle, Watkins chronicles despair and loneliness, catalogs valiant fights for survival and desperate please to be heard, and every time has us rooting for her underdogs.” –San Francisco Chronicle
“Dazzling.” –O, The Oprah Magazine
“Although individual stories stand alone, together they tell the tale of a place, and of the population that thrives and perishes therein… The historical sits comfortably alongside the contemporary and the factual nicely supplements the fictional… Readers will share in the environs of the author and her characters, be taken into the hardship of a pitiless place and emerge on the other side—wiser, warier and weathered like the landscape.” –Antonya Nelson, The New York Times Book Review
“Exceptional… A writer of great precision and greater restraint, Watkins is a natural storyteller whose material enriches that gift rather than engulfing it… One doesn’t have to be from the Battleborn state to recognize and appreciate literature that resonates like this.” –The Rumpus
"[A] breathtaking debut… [Watkins'] stories… carry the weight and devastation of entire novels.” –Flavorpill
"Absorbing… [Battleborn’s] true setting is a Faulknerian desert of the heart, where the soil is cursed by its precious metals and one’s personal history can be just as toxic. Clear-eyed and nimble in parsing the lives of her Westerners, one of Watkins’s strengths is not dodging that the simple fact that love can be tragic, involving, as it does, humans so flawed, so often tender and yet incapable.” –The Boston Globe
“A powerful new voice that deserves recognition… [Watkins maps] a regional portrait while pausing for detailed sketches, with a strong perspective that blends the romanticized past of Larry McMurtry, heartbreaking characters of Annie Proulx, and bleak timeless landscapes of Cormac McCarthy.” –The Onion AV Club
“As if Watkins’ prose embodies the desert landscape of Nevada itself, the stories are stony, unkind, and harsh, though never unattractive… Beneath these confessions runs a spiritual undertow—that salvific beauty can arise when brutality is brought to light… All of her stories left me feeling purged and oddly cleansed, easily making Battleborn one of the strongest collections I’ve read in years.” –The Millions
“In her debut short story collection Battleborn Claire Vaye Watkins marries character to landscape as well as anyone I have read in years. These stories set in the Nevada desert are gritty and brilliant, and foretell an auspicious literary future for their author.” –Largehearted Boy
"The people in Battleborn… aren’t characters in stories, but human beings perpetually yearning for warmth… Entering the varied lives is akin to watching a tightrope walker high overhead, moving with steady confidence without a net… Watkins writes with precision and care, the sentences themselves as surprising as the events, the dialogue, and the spare description… There is a purity to the prose that is a constant pleasure to read… There is great originality in these narratives… But the generosity and personal sacrifices of the people are as universal as the stars at night." –Chris Offutt, Publishers Weekly (starred guest review)
"Readers... will find much to admire in this arresting collection, which one hopes is merely the first stop along the way for a writer who deserves a sustained literary life." –Library Journal (starred review)
"The book feels like a portrait of the human heart, famished for beauty and love, but finally and almost always wrecked by its own hungers." –Paul Harding, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Tinkers
"Watkins digs and sifts… finding the bright flecks hidden in her characters' darkest moments, until each story shimmers and shines." –Hannah Tinti, author of The Good Thief
"As blistering hot and wondrously expansive as the gritty, wide-open Nevada desert." –Donald Ray Pollock, author of The Devil All the Time and Knockemstiff
“A fresh, fierce, fabulous collection. Watkins writes like the divine Didion—cool and clean with not a word wasted. Where’d she come from? I’m glad she’s here.” –Joy Williams, author of The Quick and The Dead
“Claire Vaye Watkins is never, ever satisfied with the ordinary. Each story in this brilliant debut surprises. Watkins offers us amazing visions of a funny, savage, haunted West-and one of the most outstanding short story collections in recent memory.” –Christopher Coake, author of We’re in Trouble and You Came Back