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Authors: Michelle Richmond

Golden State: A Novel

BOOK: Golden State: A Novel
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Praise for
Golden State

“I haven’t read such a gripping, bittersweet, moving novel in ages.
Golden State
sweeps you up, whisks you away, and doesn’t let you go till the very end. Michelle Richmond, author of the unforgettable
The Year of Fog
, does it again, and all I can say is

New York Times
bestselling author of
Sarah’s Key, A Secret Kept
, and
The House I Loved

“Beautifully written,
Golden State
is a tender portrait of loss, marriage, and sisterhood, all set against a gripping backdrop sure to keep readers’ hearts in their throats as the story unfolds.”

New York Times
bestselling author of
The Painted Girls

“In this complex, riveting tale set in a California on the verge of secession, Michelle Richmond manages to find the humanity among the chaos, beautifully concentrating on the ties that bind, not on the ones that are being severed.”

New York Times
bestselling author of
The Aviator’s Wife

“Michelle Richmond is a writer of rare vision and grace, and
Golden State
is her best book yet. I couldn’t put it down.”

New York Times
bestselling author of
A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty

“Michelle Richmond slices to the heart of love in its many permutations: romantic, sororal, and, most of all, maternal. I was swept up by this lovely, poignant novel, my sadness at its end only mitigated by my pleasure at having experienced its many gifts.”

, author of
Red Hook Road

“A fierce and luminous story about love, loss, family, and forgiveness.”

, author of
The Deepest Secret

“A powerful, riveting, and heartfelt novel, an ode to San Francisco and to the fierceness of the human spirit.”

, author of
French Lessons
The Paradise Guest House

Golden State
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

A Bantam Books eBook Edition

Copyright © 2014 by Michelle Richmond Reading group guide copyright © 2014 by Random House LLC

All rights reserved.

Published in the United States by Bantam Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York.

and the H
colophon are registered trademarks of Random House LLC.


& Design is a registered trademark of Random House LLC.

Grateful acknowledgment is made to the following for permission to reprint previously published material:

Excerpt from “Goin’ Down to Laurel” by Steve Forbert. Reprinted by permission.

Excerpt from “San Francisco Days” by Chris Isaak. Reprinted by permission.

Excerpt from “Sweetie” by Josh Rouse. Reprinted by permission.

Richmond, Michelle.
Golden state : a novel / Michelle Richmond.
page cm.
ISBN 978-0-385-34328-2
eBook ISBN 978-0-345-53240-4
1. Women physicians—Fiction. 2. Sisters—Fiction.
3. Man-woman relationships—Fiction. 4. Domestic fiction. I. Title.
PS3618.I35G65 2013

Title-page image: ©

Cover design: Belina Huey
Cover images: © Michael Menefee (birds),
© Sapna Reddy/Getty Images (bridge),
© Brian Cronin (flowers)


Where is Nirvana?
Nirvana is here, nine times out of ten.



“Spring-Watching Pavilion”


Tell me a story, he said.

So I told him about my first morning in San Francisco. It was July, summer in the city, foggy and cold. I was tired and jet-lagged and had yet to unpack, but I wanted to see the famous California coast. I took a bus over the Golden Gate Bridge to San Rafael, where I boarded a shuttle to Point Reyes.

Alone, I wandered along the cliffs in the freezing fog, out to the lighthouse. I stood gazing at the roaring Pacific, a crazy-looking ocean, infinitely more dangerous and dramatic than the Gulf Coast waters I knew so well. On a small hill above a meadow, I followed a picket fence for several hundred yards, curious where it led. And then, without warning, the fence abruptly ended. A narrow ditch split the ground in two; on the other side, the fence continued on its way.

A middle-aged man stood with a boy of about seven. The man was on one side of the ditch, the boy on the other. They held hands across the divide. “We’re on top of the San Andreas Fault,” the man explained to the child. “This used to be one long, straight fence. When the earthquake hit in 1906, it broke the fence in half and moved it sixteen feet.”

I imagined the earth moving in one swift, startling motion, rearranging everything in an instant. Battling a sudden feeling of vertigo, I placed a hand on the fence to steady myself. What was I doing here? California might as well have been another country. Back home, we had hurricanes and tornadoes, thunderstorms so violent they shook the house to its very bones. But this was different.


12:41 p.m., June 15

The reception area of the tiny hotel is eerily empty. On the desk, a coffee mug smeared with red lipstick sits beside a small television, the volume turned up high, blaring news of the vote. Eleanor’s mug, Eleanor’s lipstick. Famously difficult Eleanor.

I leave my crutches behind and use the rail to pull myself up the stairs. At the top, I turn left. The first room is empty, the door open to reveal two twin beds, an old dresser, blood on the floor.

I continue along the hallway. The second door is closed. Room 2B. Heather’s room. Early this morning, while I was still sleeping on the couch of a radio station at the other end of the city, my phone began to vibrate. It was Heather, texting:
It’s time
. It seems like a lifetime ago.


I try the knob, but it doesn’t budge.


I knock. Again, no answer.

Finally, a scraping sound, furniture moving across the floor. The knob turns, the door opens a few inches, and there she is—red in the face, her T-shirt drenched with sweat, her eyes strangely calm. Her gaze takes in my wrecked face, my filthy clothes, the hastily wrapped bandage on my foot.

I squeeze through the doorway. On the opposite wall, a bureau is shoved against a tall window that opens onto a balcony. To my left, as far as possible from the window, stands the bed, the sheets twisted and wet.

“When I saw him coming toward the hotel,” she tells me, “I barricaded the door. When he left, I barricaded the window.”

She shuts the door behind me, then locks it. Together we shove the desk back into place.

“What happened next door?”

“He had Eleanor,” she says. “Sounded bad.”

Heather doubles over in pain, moaning. I limp to her side. She grips my arm so tight I can feel her fingernails through my sweater. Seconds pass before her face relaxes. She catches her breath, lowers herself onto the bed. “What’s the difference between a pregnant woman and a lightbulb?” she asks.

“Got me.”

“You can unscrew a lightbulb.”

I smile, happy to see the Heather I know.

In the bathroom, I wash my face and hands. I smell terrible and look worse. The skin under my arms is bleeding, rubbed raw from the crutches. Rummaging through Heather’s cosmetics bag, I am grateful for the small miracle of a rubber band. I gather my hair into a ponytail, drink cold water from the faucet, and rinse my mouth with toothpaste.

I scan the bathroom for anything useful. There’s a small bar of soap, two towels hanging beside the stained tub, an empty waste bin beneath the sink. I grab the towels and bin and hobble into the darkened room. I drag a chair up to the end of the bed and drape a blanket over Heather’s knees.

“Are there any cops out there?” she asks.

“Just one terrified kid.”

She clutches the sheets as another contraction seizes her. Her face registers the pain, but she is silent. Thirty seconds pass before she collapses back onto the pillow, panting.

“Where’s the National Guard?” she asks.

“Sacramento and L.A., I guess.”

A foghorn wails in the distance—that familiar, soothing sound. “Scoot down,” I say. “Here comes the fun part.”

“When I said I didn’t need the bells and whistles, I didn’t quite picture it like this.” She moves toward the end of the bed.

“The baby’s going to be fine,” I say, mustering my calmest voice.

I lift the blanket to examine her. I’m not an ob-gyn, I’m a general internist. This is not what I do. Of course, I did it during my residency years—a month on the maternity ward at San Francisco General—but I was relieved beyond measure when my time was over.

Just to the west of us, beyond the barricaded window and the empty parking lot, is the Veterans Administration hospital. The six-unit hotel is normally booked with veterans’ families, waiting out heart surgery and organ transplants, but today the place is deserted. All but the most crucial surgeries have been postponed, and the whole campus is running on a bare-bones staff.

BOOK: Golden State: A Novel
6.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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