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Is a sprawling city, where unfettered growth is a cultural hallmark, justified in taking water from a small, impoverished community? How far should a country at war go to protect itself from perceived threats? Set in the stark but picturesque Owens Valley, Properties of Thirst will leave you wondering just what it means to be “American.” If your recent book club discussions have been falling flat, this gem might turn things around.
August 2022 Indie Next List
“Words don’t do this book justice. A family tale, a moral novel of a shameful time in our history, and a love story built with care and humor. You won’t want to leave the Rhodes family when the novel ends. Grab this and fall under its spell.”
— Anne Whalen, Brown University Bookstore, Providence, RI
A National Bestseller A New Yorker Best Book of 2022
Fifteen years after the publication of Evidence of Things Unseen, National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize finalist Marianne Wiggins returns with a novel destined to be an American classic: a sweeping masterwork set during World War II about the meaning of family and the limitations of the American Dream.
Rockwell “Rocky” Rhodes has spent years fiercely protecting his California ranch from the LA Water Corporation. It is here where he and his beloved wife Lou raised their twins, Sunny and Stryker, and it is here where Rocky has mourned Lou in the years since her death.
As Sunny and Stryker reach the cusp of adulthood, the country teeters on the brink of war. Stryker decides to join the fight, deploying to Pearl Harbor not long before the bombs strike. Soon, Rocky and his family find themselves facing yet another incomprehensible tragedy.
Rocky is determined to protect his remaining family and the land where they’ve loved and lost so much. But when the government decides to build a Japanese-American internment camp next to the ranch, Rocky realizes that the land faces even bigger threats than the LA watermen he’s battled for years. Complicating matters is the fact that the idealistic Department of the Interior man assigned to build the camp, who only begins to understand the horror of his task after it may be too late, becomes infatuated with Sunny and entangled with the Rhodes family.
Properties of Thirst is a novel that is both universal and intimate. It is the story of a changing American landscape and an examination of one of the darkest periods in this country’s past, told through the stories of the individual loves and losses that weave together to form the fabric of our shared history. Ultimately, it is an unflinching distillation of our nation’s essence—and a celebration of the bonds of love and family that persist against all odds.
About the Author
Marianne Wiggins is the author of eight novels, including John Dollar and Evidence of Things Unseen, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award. She has won a Whiting Award, a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, the Heidinger Kafka Prize, and was shortlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction. She lives in Venice, California.
“Written in such marvelous prose. This sprawling masterpiece is filled with multigenerational coming-of-age stories and dives into the California water wars, as well as the birth (and shameful disgrace) of the Japanese internment camp at Manzanar.”—New York Times
“Legitimately great…. This is a big, bold book, generous of spirit and packed with prose that gleefully breaks the rules…. It speaks to the heart as well as the head, and conjures characters to whom you won’t want to say goodbye.”—USA Today
“Poignant… the novel’s resounding theme, ‘You can’t save what you don’t love,’ applies to people and landscapes alike.” —New Yorker
“This is a love story. Or rather, several love stories…. ‘You can’t save what you don’t love,’ reads the declarative sentence that opens the novel. It becomes the theme that ties together the disparate characters as they attempt to save the water, save the land, save their families and ultimately save themselves. And it describes the novel that mother and daughter have saved together.”—Los Angeles Times
“Properties of Thirst is sprawling, rich, deep, passionate, beautiful, and as big as one of its key protagonists, the six-foot-plus California rancher Rocky Rhodes, and the vast mountain ranges he loves.”—New York Journal of Books
“Wiggins’s wordplay is stellar… the dialogue is full of grit, and Wiggins manages to capture a big swath of mid-century America by placing a blue-blooded family into a desert inland complete with adobe haciendas, desert blooms, and Hollywood movie sets…Wiggins’s masterpiece is one for the ages.”—The Millions
“A sweeping, cinematic story of love and family set against the dramatic backdrop of World War II and the American West…. What makes the novel soar is the way Wiggins can evoke landscapes both interior and exterior, especially the expansive valley that has come to exemplify America’s best qualities—and its worst. This majestic novel will satisfy those thirsting for an epic saga of love, family, and the complexities of the American way.”—Kirkus *Starred Review*
"Wiggins manages to capture a big swath of mid-century America by placing a blue-blooded family into a desert inland complete with adobe haciendas, desert blooms, and Hollywood movie sets, while throughout, the Rhodes hold out hope for Stryker’s survival. Wiggins’s masterpiece is one for the ages."–Publishers Weekly, *Starred Review*
“[a] grand novel of principled and creative individuals caught in the vise of history… Loss, desire, moral dilemmas, reflection, and zesty dialogue with the do-good energy of Frank Capra films generate a WWII home front tale of profound and far-ranging inquiry and imagination, scintillating humor, intrepid romance, and conscience.”—Booklist *Starred Review*
“Masterful…. Readers won’t be able to look away. Wiggins’ characters are raw and honest… [her] writing, which can be fragmented or polished depending on the page, opens up microscopic universes and sprawling landscapes alike. It’s a joy to read.”—Bookpage *Starred Review*
“These ‘properties of thirst’ come vividly alive in Marianne Wiggins’ expansive, thoroughly engaging new novel of the same name. A story of family, responsibility, and the tug of heritage, it applauds decency and determination while weighing the roles of individuals in collective wrongs…. Wiggins’ writing is observant, thoughtful, and willing to wrestle. It’s also a joy.”—Christian Science Monitor
“A sweeping, affecting story about family, property, and the soul of America might sound ambitious, but it's carried off with seeming ease by Marianne Wiggins, the award-winning author of Evidence of Things Unseen. This new novel follows a 1940s California family whose closely guarded land gets an unexpected neighbor when an internment camp is set to be built nearby, and examines love, loss, and what it truly means to be at home.”—Town & Country
"A rich historical fiction centered on a Southern California ranch family circa WWII and shot through with shades of Chinatown." –Entertainment Weekly
"This magnificent novel opens every little nerve of language and sends jolts of electricity along the spine. It's a love story, and a family tale, and a song of history. It's about shame and loss and recovery and beauty. It's a novel to cherish, composed with great humanity and humour."–Colum McCann
“A changing American landscape is beautifully portrayed in PROPERTIES OF THIRST, a moving and gripping new novel by Marianne Wiggins. At the start of World War II, while Japanese families are relocated to Manzanar, the Rhodes family, who live on a ranch near the camp are equally uprooted by memories and circumstances. What follows is a rich and powerful portrayal of love, loss, and the enduring strength of family. A novel to be read and savored.”—Gail Tsukiyama, bestselling author of Women of the Silk and The Samurai’s Garden
"This is a novel I wish I could have written. Keen, unsparing, and compassionate, Properties of Thirst reveals a world and a history I thought I knew, in language so beautiful, it took my breath away. Vividly alive, these characters mirror our present moment, our complex ties to this land and to each other, our most profound alienations and our fiercest loves."–Ruth Ozeki, author of A Tale for the Time Being
"'Properties of Thirst' is a graceful and arresting meditation on the dark nature of greed and desire in the face of dwindling natural resources and pernicious xenophobia. It is impossible to read this novel and ignore the fact that the unscrupulous choices we've made in the past are the ones we're still making, ones that, if we're not able to look at ourselves with the moral clarity Wiggins brings to her fiction, we will continue to make."–Marisa Silver, author of The Mysteries, and Mary Coin