American westerns are often limited by particular assumptions about race and gender, as well as about history itself. C Pam Zhang’s debut novel fearlessly rearranges such tropes into new shapes, discarding and recontextualizing even the most steadfast of ideas. Zhang’s gold rush–era setting is peppered with coal mines; buffalo bones bleach in the sun, and tiger prints appear in dry soil. What it adds up to is a reinvention of the Old West—near-apocalyptic in its despair and longing—in which Zhang’s protagonist, Lucy, must find a way to make a home. Her journey back and forth across topography and circumstance makes for a superb and moving work.
• By C Pam Zhang
• Riverhead Books, 288 pages, $26
For more on California literature, and to join our free California Book Club, visit CaliforniaBookClub.com