21book  /// "Battleborn Riverhead" by Claire Vaye Watkins  ///Reviewed by Alisha Churbe

I barely know where to start with this new author’s collection as I’m practically speechless. Watkins’s collection is a bit raw, a little gritty and extremely memorable. Many of the characters still resonate with me. The collection is made up of stories set in the Nevada; spanning lifestyles, lifetimes and areas throughout the state. The theme that runs throughout the collection is that of humanity and how events, actions and surroundings force tough decisions and even tougher consequences. Each story has unique settings (ghost towns, brothels, desert) and characters. She writes each with great care, interweaving the character with the setting. Watkins’s characters are part of the landscape she describes impeccably – as though one is unable to exist without the other.

Battleborn is a collection of ten short stories each as fulfilling and dense as the next. Watkins’s characters are well defined and flawed. They are memorable and in some stories, a bit haunting. The first story, “Ghosts, Cowboys” nods to the Manson compound in Nevada and reinvents a story that emerges from a trouble past. In “The Last Thing We Need,” a one sided story, is told in an epistolary format from one man (Thomas Grey) to another (Duane Moser) regarding the remains of what seems to be a car accident. The format is intriguing and we begin to learn more about Thomas through his letters to Duane. Duane does not respond to any of the letters. “The Diggings” takes us back in time to the mid- 1800s when settlers and travelers were just beginning to arrive in Nevada. The characters in “Virginia City” seem unsavory, but their story, within more modern, gambling centric town of Nevada, must be told.

This is one of only a few books that have ever received a 5 rating from me. I highly recommend this collection, even for those who are strictly novel readers normally. The worlds and characters are well-written that by the end of each story, you feel as though you have just read a full novel. The first time through, I read cover to cover voraciously. I read it a second time to savor the moments and the mysterious and raw elements. The stories can be shocking, but extremely rewarding.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Part-time fiction writer, Alisha Churbe lives in Portland, Oregon. In the rare instances when you can pry her away from books, Alisha can be found travelling in foreign countries, cooking, or hiking with her husband Michael and dog Euro.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Riverhead Trade. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.