Natalie Askedahl grew up in Sacramento as the youngest of three children in a political family, regularly meeting up with the power brokers in the state’s capital.
Their parents were idealistic, but they reared their children with a kind of benign neglect, not really catering to them, but leaving them to their own devices. Natalie’s big brother Bobby was brilliant, sensitive, and looked out for her; she believed he would always be her hero, and he made her feel safe.
Now that Natalie is grown, with her own family, and enjoying her life in Berkeley with her husband and two daughters, she is distanced from her family of origin, which now consists of her aging mother, and her older sister Sara, living the hippie life in Potter Valley. None of them have seen Bobby in years, who lives in a small shack in Idaho, and he doesn’t answer their letters. But Natalie still idolizes him in her mind.
One day, her world is shattered when a bomb goes off on the Berkeley campus, where her fifteen year old daughter Julia is spending the day. Then, more bombs go off in the subsequent weeks, and while others are wondering about the “Cal Bomber,” responsible for numerous bombings over the years, Natalie is beginning to have a sinking feeling. She realizes that the bomber’s manifesto, as published in the newspaper, is sickeningly similar to a letter Bobby sent to their mother.
What Natalie does next will change everything about her life, until it is reduced to “before and after.” Promises were broken, and now Natalie and her family are in the eye of the storm, with reporters hounding them at every turn. Will her marriage be shattered in the wake of everything that transpires? Can she ever return to her job as a teacher again?
Narrated in Natalie’s first person voice, we see her horrific dilemma…and we also learn, through her memories, about how she grew up, and even some of the ways their family looked away from the hard realities in order to see themselves as good and dedicated people, with a loving family life. The challenges of facing reality, and the mental illness that has taken over her brother’s life, will be one of Natalie’s greatest tasks in the months ahead.
The characters were like real people, and I felt for everyone in the story, from the victims to the man at the center of the storm. Natalie’s husband Eric, however, in my opinion, was too focused on how others would perceive him, and how everything happening would affect his position as a partner in a prestigious law firm. He was less than sympathetic to what Natalie was experiencing. In fact, he railroaded her into taking the action that would lead to the train wreck that would become their life.
A slow build kept me glued to the pages, wondering if anything good could come of their lives. The drama unfolded and while there were no big surprises, Golden State: A Novel did pack a wallop, leaving me much to ponder. To consider how any of us could make a right choice in a situation like this one. 4.5 stars.