“The day my mom checked out, Razor Blade Baby moved in. At the end, I can’t stop thinking about beginnings.” So opens Claire Vaye Watkins’s Battleborn (Riverhead), a gut-wrenching fictional portrait of Nevada—from its brothels to its salt pans, from the windswept Nevada Test Site to the menacing glitter of the Las Vegas Strip—and the people who inhabit it. There is Manny, the gay madam of the Cherry Patch Ranch; Catie and Gwen, sisters struggling with their mother’s suicide; and a woman named Claire (Vaye Watkins, one guesses), whose father recruited women into the Manson Family. Watkins’s prose, razor sharp and economical, intensifies the characters’ longings, self-annihilating tendencies and rare moments of grace. A thrilling literary debut.
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