Kafka on the Border
Nothing Good Can Come From This: A Mocktail Zine

Alturas, California

Photography and Text by Lydia Kiesling

The Golden State takes place in a town very much like Alturas, California, which is in the far northeastern part of the state, where it touches Oregon and Nevada. It’s the seat of Modoc County, named for the people whose land, along with that of the Northern Paiute and Pit River tribes, was taken by white settlers and the U.S. military in the mid-nineteenth century. After the so-called Modoc Wars, many surviving Modoc people were displaced to Oklahoma.

Alturas is my mother’s hometown; she grew up there and my grandparents lived there when I was growing up. When I was a child, Alturas was an otherworldly, enchanted place, my grandparents’ home a place of refuge and love. They are gone now, and the last few visits I have made there have been melancholy. The beauty of the surroundings still speak to me, but the views are imbued with loss—the ghosts of loved ones and familiar buildings, but also of a community, a way of growing up that I never actually experienced, one that lives for me only in my mom and her sister’s recollections. Here are some photos from the last few visits I’ve taken with my family, images of places that found their way into the novel in some form.

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A few years ago, my mom and I went to a memorial service in Likely, a neighboring town, and passed this old sign for The Brass Rail, a popular restaurant and adjacent campground in Alturas. I was five weeks pregnant with my first child—secret to everyone except my husband—and I thought about how the baby would come up here, too, one day.

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Alturas is surrounded by fields, farmsteads, and grazing lands. The elevation is over 4,000 feet; the Warner Mountains are in the distance.

The Brass Rail, a family-style Basque restaurant, is an inevitable destination in Alturas. I ate there with my first baby alone once, and like many meals alone with a child in public it was a miniature epic, during which I felt a combination of fatigue, anxiety, pride, and joy—the sort of moment that is central to Daphne’s experience in the novel.

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Modoc County is cattle country. This is a photo of Jess Valley taken from inside a moving car.

This is a view of the high school and the timeless Harold’s Frosty, home of the “best burger and fries in the West.” A trip to the Frosty was a huge treat when I visited my grandparents.

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My beloved Grandfather’s chair. He would sit here to read or do his crossword. It is uncanny how empty it seemed once he was gone.

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Benny’s bar has, tragically, closed. When my husband and I were first dating I brought him up here and we set out to get a drink. My grandmother had warned of rough customers but instead we met the man who installed her deck, who bought us beers.

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Bordertown is the little casino and restaurant where we usually stop on the trip north to Alturas. This is on the Nevada side, before the road takes you back into California. That’s me and my firstborn, when she was a toddler.

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Here’s that beautiful golden California light shining down on the sagebrush and juniper.

Here’s my toddler on the courthouse steps.

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This is a view down Main Street. Alturas is a small town, but it seems to have been built to take up as much land as possible. It is full of wide streets and open spaces.

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The cemetery on a beautiful clear day.

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The Golden State book cover

The Golden State

MCD × FSG, 2018


Named one of the Best Books of 2018 by NPR, Bookforum and Bustle. One of Entertainment Weekly's 10 Best Debut Novels of 2018. An Amazon Best Book of the Month and named a fall read by Buzzfeed, Nylon, Entertainment Weekly, Elle, Vanity Fair, Vulture, Refinery29 and Mind Body Green

A gorgeous, raw debut novel about a young woman braving the ups...

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