Thursday, July 16, 2009

"New Valley" plunges through varied terrain

The valleys of Virginia are not vastly populated. And yet they are inhabited by the complex and simple people of Josh Weil’s first book The New Valley. The debut contains three novellas. Each utterly distinct from the others despite the fact that they share the same locale.
In the fist novella, a man, Osby, has just lost his father. For years the two of them lived and worked side by side on their farm. They bred cattle and lived a controllable if not entirely contented life as bachelors in a house too large for just two of them. Osby finds himself marooned by the grief his doesn’t know how to express or even own. Left with no one to care for besides his cows, Osby attempts to navigate the new waters he finds himself adrift upon. Innocent and reluctant to open himself up to the world, he approaches everything with good intentions and is bewildered by his inability to succeed.
Stillman Wing is the main character in Weil’s second novella. At seventy he is forced into retirement and in a rare break from his customary caution, Stillman makes away with an ancient Deutz from his former employer’s yard of machines, planning on fixing the tractor up like new.
Stillman lives with his obese daughter Caroline. Her tremendous weight plagues Stillman and he begs her to abide by his own fastidious approaches to physical health. Caroline continually rebuffs him. He has raised her on his own since she was a toddler and his love for her is evident and immense. But his devotion to her is incapable of stabilizing his impetuous daughter.
Two elements of this novella are particularly intriguing. The manner in which Weil deals with time is remarkable in Stillman Wing. Within the space of a single paragraph inside Stillman’s head, a whole year has gone by. The transition is absolutely fluid and once one tunes into his strategy, Weil’s approach to the seasonal cycles is both striking and delightful. Time resides at the axis of the story, and the author’s unique approach to its unfurling makes its importance all the more conspicuous.
Secondly, there are wonderful illustrations splitting up the text in this narrative. The drawings are intricate and surprising. They complement the story beautifully, adding another element of mystery.
Finally, Weil introduces the reader to the last of the Sarvers in the final, longest novella. All of Weil’s stories do a dance on the heartstrings, but Sarverville Remains is particularly affecting.
Weil strikes an entirely different tone in this story. Geoffrey Sarver is the first-person narrator of this dark narrative. He is writing to someone and it becomes evident through his prose that he is mentally impaired to a minor degree. At the age of thirty Geoffrey spends his time with high school boys who are looking for sex and trouble. The company he keeps leads him to his first love affair, an event that disrupts the placidity of the life he had made for himself.
Weil’s ability to enter the minds of the characters on his pages is remarkable. The variations in their lives and personalities are complex and yet ring with a similar searching tremor. None of them are resigned. All three male protagonists strive toward something beyond what they have known; their largest obstacle is only that they are unsure of what lies beyond their immediate existence.
Weil’s debut has rare depths and penetrates into minds and communities that are rarely explored. A literary trend toward the exploration of those outside the spotlight is emerging, a phase that Weil proves to be compelling and profitable.

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