Vaye Watkins begins Battleborn with a look at the history that inspires this short story
collection. She truly takes the reader back to the silver and dust that Nevada is known for. This read is engaging because of how personalized the stories are: many of them are about Vaye Watkins herself.
In the first story “Ghosts, Cowboys,” Vaye Watkins presents us with a number of vignettes, all disparate in time, yet linked by their shared Nevada history. We get a taste of the Comstock Lode, the Hollywood Studio age, and the ranch where Charles Manson’s dark activities went down. This last one has a personal connection to Vaye Watkins, since she is one of the children of Charles Manson’s “family” members. Both of her parents were part of the group just before the famous murders took place, and spent time at the ranch. Her father, Paul Watkins, testified against Manson, and Vaye Watkins does not shy away from the personal impact this has had on her life. She tells us that producers and screenwriters call her often, looking for her side of the story.
Vaye Watkins definitely could have chosen to write a memoir, since most, if not all of these stories, have a grain of truth to them. It’s truly interesting that this book belongs in the fiction section, since the novel features real people and places, strewn throughout Nevada’s history, but this makes the subject matter all the more unique.
Battleborn really shows the dark side of the West. Vaye Watkins begins her collection
with larger-than-life stories, but she focuses the works on her personal experiences living in the
Nevada desert. She even adds personal touches and a salute to Las Vegas in her story “Rondine Al Nido” by mentioning the MGM lion, and her need to make up a city life to the cold, harsh men she met in the city.
Vaye Watkins, a creative writing professor, has a style that is sharp, clean, and sparse.
It’s definitely clear that Vaye Watkins dug deeply into her past to craft these pieces. This pick is for fans of literary fiction, short stories, and anecdotes that don’t always have a happy ending.
She does not express a Nevada full of justice-serving cowboys or happy ranching folk. The stories are made all the more harsh by the setting Vaye Watkins evokes: a dry, brutal wasteland in which her characters seek hope, but don’t always find it.
This book is a piece of interest to Nevadans because the stories take place all over the Silver state. We check in to Reno, Beatty, and Las Vegas, among other Nevada settings.
For many of us who live in Las Vegas, we often don’t think of what lies beyond the border of lights and the mountains. We think of everything that we have here in Vegas: constant entertainment, endless choices on Saturday nights, hiking, and too many Strip malls. We forget that our city is just one of the small cities that make up the vast, desert state of Nevada.
Sometimes, looking out at the lights over the desert, we forget that Nevada has a dark side. But Claire Vaye Watkins reminds us to look beyond the glittering lights, and into the dark portal of history that influenced the state we know and love.
Kayla Dean is a student and writer from sunny Las Vegas. When she isn’t writing, you can find her reading, or at the bookstore. Follow her on Twitter at @kayladeanwrites.