Monday, August 31, 2015

"My father: Charles Manson's right-hand man" by Claire Vaye Watkins

"Ghosts, Cowboys," the opening story in Claire Vaye Watkins' Battleborn, is one of the most jaw-dropping short stories I've read in some time. It's intriguing for so many reasons, the least of which is its autobiographical nature: The narrator's name is Claire; her father's name is Paul Watkins.

So, surely there must be some truth to this, the reader thinks while devouring this story that weaves the history of Reno and its gold rush with Hollywood westerns; the Spahn's Ranch (where Charles Manson and his followers made their home); the death of the narrator's mother; and the character of Razor Blade Baby, a woman said to survive birth for the intervention of Manson who sliced her laboring mother "from vagina to anus."

I've read the story several times, dazzled by Watkins' ability to make these connections..., so seamlessly. Then today, having read it again, I just had to know. I came across this personal essay, "My father: Charles Manson's right-hand man," this monkey dance, from The Guardian, on my first hit. And suddenly, everything makes sense!

Of course, Watkins would have spent a lifetime seeking such connections! That this story is, essentially, a life's work is partially what makes "Ghosts, Cowboys" so utterly fantastic. Well..., that and Watkin's gifts for writing and storytelling. If you haven't read this collection, yet, seriously, do.

But first read "Ghosts, Cowboys." Then the essay.

Claire Vaye Watkins

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