The first time I ever heard about California I was eight, tucked between library stacks, the Canadian snow blizzarding outside. Beneath the frayed cover of a book called All About California, I read fantastical myths of griffins and earthquakes, furnace deserts and Hollywood stars, and I felt an imprinting take place. California seemed like the answer to my dull existence in the nowhere North, to the secrets of my parents’ marriage, to our claustrophobic, gossipy Jewish community where everyone knew everything.
Soon after, obsessed with stories of the unknown, aliens and The Twilight Zone, I discovered that the family I believed I had, arranged in a way that provided safety from things that threatened little girls like me — kidnappers in black vans; flashers in raincoats — was not what it has always seemed. My childhood truths slid suddenly into fiction and my first family exploded.
At sixteen, with a pasted-together second family destined to fail and thousands of other dot com pioneers, I finally went west to the place of my obsessions. California Calling traces the story of this relocation and my search for a map of belonging within an unfamiliar territory. This search asks what it means to assimilate, confronting the silences of my Eastern European ancestors’ near erasure and my own girlhood while interrogating the California Myth ― a fantasy of self-improvement and dreams come true that has gripped the imaginations of immigrants for millennia.
In California Calling: A Self-Interrogation, Natalie Singer brings the universal themes of longing and displacement to life in a singular, inimitable voice. California Calling is a story of yearning for a home that no longer exists, a story of place—both real and iconic. But most of all this is a book about disruption and an interrogation in which form mirrors content; the questions leveled at the narrator become, in the end, Singer’s questions for the reader, who is left to revisit their own notions of identity, home, and belonging. Natalie Singer is an important writer we’ll be sure to be hearing from for years to come.
- THEO PAULINE NESTOR
- Author of Writing Is My Drink
I couldn’t stop reading California Calling—I consumed it in one gorgeous gulp. Natalie Singer writes beautifully of an ordinary, extraordinary coming of age. In prose that’s lean and elegant and fiercely honest, she captures the big pain and the small, real joys of growing up. This book shimmers like a California dream.
- CLAIRE DEDERER
- Author of Love and Trouble: A Midlife Reckoning
Natalie Singer’s wonderful debut is about the myths we tell ourselves about ourselves as nations and individuals, and what we do when we learn about the truth beneath those myths. Singer situates California Calling within the geographic, literary and pop culture of the American West but the story she tells will ring true to anyone who is or knows a daughter, a woman, an immigrant.
- REBECCA BROWN
- Author of The Gifts of the Body