Thursday, October 12, 2023

Review: Death Valley by Melissa Broder


Death Valley by Melissa Broder
Publication Date: October 3rd, 2023
Hardcover. 240 pages.

About Death Valley:

"In Melissa Broder’s astounding new novel, a woman arrives alone at a Best Western seeking respite from an emptiness that plagues her. She has fled to the California high desert to escape a cloud of sorrow—for both her father in the ICU and a husband whose illness is worsening. What the motel provides, however, is not peace but a path, thanks to a receptionist who recommends a nearby hike.

Out on the sun-scorched trail, the woman encounters a towering cactus whose size and shape mean it should not exist in California. Yet the cactus is there, with a gash through its side that beckons like a familiar door. So she enters it. What awaits her inside this mystical succulent sets her on a journey at once desolate and rich, hilarious and poignant."

Death Valley is a surreal, heartfelt, slightly existential, and mildly bizarre read–and also a highly addictive and enjoyable one. This book is a character study, a desert story, and a survival story, and you'll spend a lot of time getting to know our unnamed protagonist. 

Death Valley follows a writer as many different things she’s been struggling with in her life come to a sort of crossroads. Her father is currently in the ICU, her husband struggles with some sort of unknown chronic illness that’s been taking a toll on her and their relationship, and she’s been a bit stuck writing her new book. All of these things follow her as she goes on a bit of an escape to the desert to take some time for herself. She stays at an average Best Western–our protagonist seems to really love Best Westerns, so this is a huge positive for her–and doesn’t really have a lot of plans in store. She decides to embark upon a hike nearby recommended to her by a woman at the front desk, and it’s on this hike that the bulk of the novel is based around. All I can tell you here is that she comes across an enormous non-native to California cactus that has marks on it that appear to look like some sort of door that she’s really tempted to open and go inside this cactus…

Death Valley really seems to explore the idea of survival. There’s a physical survival component as she gets lost in the desert, but it feels much bigger than just that as she struggles with how to survive emotionally in her own life with everything going on around her. This is not a plot driven book, but rather one focused on the protagonist’s internal journey as she grapples with all these different things going on in her life that she must survive.

There’s a bit of absurdism and magical realism at play with regard to the cactus’ role and her night spent in the desert. Our protagonist also talks to some rocks and wildlife while working through various stages of grief and generally seems to be trying to figure out a lot of different things.  It won’t be for everyone, but it is compelling nonetheless and the protagonist's inner monologue and general tone captivated me, making me laugh as well as feel deeper moments of contemplation and a sense of relating to someone else’s misery in a way that was really engaging. Our protagonist has a very dry and dark sense of humor that I connected with perfectly. This is one of those books where the narrative voice is absolutely crucial to whether the story works or not since it plays such a critical role, and fortunately I think it was a hit.

I really don’t want to give too much else away about the story, so I’ll leave details at that. As previously mentioned, the narrative voice was entrancing, full of humor and a silliness to it that brought great enjoyment, but it was also quite poignant and has some really great moments that really thought-provoking, realistic, and raw. There's a lot of emotion in this book, ranging the entire spectrum of happy to sad to angry. 

My only complaint for Death Valley would be that it did drag a bit too long in some scenes, which slowed the pacing down a bit and sort of took me out of the moment at times. Other than that, however, I really don't have anything negative to say about this reading experience.

Overall, I've given Death Valley four stars! I don't think it will connect with everyone, but I'd definitely say to give it a shot if you don't mind spending some time in a particularly cynical person's head and/or things that are a little bizarre, but full of heart. 

*I received a copy of Death Valley courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Buy the book: Amazon |

1 comment:

  1. I wanted to request this so badly, but I'll probably buy a copy since it sounds perfect for me😁