In a memory, a husband lifts the covers up from his marital bed. ‘Come here,’ he says to his wife. She is hesitant. For nearly a decade, his body has been subject to the ravages of an unspecified autoimmune disorder. ‘You’re going to die one day,’ she says. ‘Then what do I do?’ To which he counters, ‘If that’s the case, why love anyone?’
This question haunts the protagonist of the American writer Melissa Broder’s latest novel, Death Valley, who flees not only her husband’s slow deterioration but also her father’s more rapid decline in an ICU following a car accident. She makes the trip out of Los Angeles, she claims, to flesh out the ‘desert section’ of the novel she is writing, seeking refuge in a secluded Best Western near the Mojave Preserve, California. Really, though, she is fleeing the overwhelming, ostensibly futile duties of familial care back home. Hers is an out of sight, out of heart mentality; after all, if there is nothing she can do to help, what good does it do to stay?
Rather than write, she finds herself following a trail recommended by the gruff but strikingly compassionate hotel concierge. This initially unambitious adventure leads to the discovery of an enormous Saguaro cactus with psychedelic properties, which seemingly empowers her to conjure back into existence her young and healthy father and