The stories in Battleborn all unfold in Watkins’s home state of Nevada, from down south in Nye County and Las Vegas, to Reno, Lake Tahoe, and the Blackrock Desert, the site of Burning Man. We are introduced to a very specific small town America, to those homes and lives off the highway – the ones travellers and writers usually drive past on their way to somewhere else.
While the locations are ordinary, the characters and Watkins’ telling of their lives are anything but. There is the man who finds a cache of letters, pills and a photograph abandoned by the side of the road and as he writes to the man he imagines left them behind, reveals moving truths about himself (‘The Last Thing We Need’); the man in late middle age who finds a troubled, pregnant teen dying in the desert and, through her, begins to dream of regaining the family he lost (‘Man-O-War’); the brothers caught in the early days of the gold rush (‘The Diggings’); and the sisters unable to comfort each other following their mother’s suicide (‘Graceland’). And there is the first story (‘Ghosts, Cowboys’), a semi-autobiographical account of a troubled – and famous – family history.