At first glance, Marc Fitten’s novel "Valeria’s Last Stand" is a love quadrangle. But between the layers of love sought and passion denied is a deeper...moreAt first glance, Marc Fitten’s novel "Valeria’s Last Stand" is a love quadrangle. But between the layers of love sought and passion denied is a deeper truth reminding us that unrequited love does not belong solely to the individual—love not returned from community or government can wound the heart as well.
In a Hungarian village, “deep in the steppes, in the middle of nowhere,” sixty-eight year old Valeria spends her days cleaning, judging her neighbors and criticizing the country’s move from socialism, the only rule she’s ever known, to the new order of capitalism. With a strong use of sense imagery and sensual language, Marc Fitten captures the peoples’ struggle when all they have ever known shifts. “Since the country had opened up to the West, even in Zivatar, new fruits and vegetables had been introduced. In what was once a room of potato browns and spinach greens, colors like orange and red stood out like Christmas lights. In the first heady days of capitalism, when exotic fruits were still a novelty, people who hardly ever went shopping made special visits to the market just to look at pineapples. Valeria wasn’t interested in foreign fruits and vegetables, mostly because she could not grow them, but also because of their blatant sensuality. Tropical fruits were swollen with flesh and juice. They were sticky. They were uninhibited. The first time she held a banana, Valeria was offended.”
When Valeria sees the potter in the village market, her simple life of condemnation and angst becomes obsolete, and she decides that it’s never too late to change, let go of the past, take a chance. Open your heart. “But then one day, as she was checking brown spots on a young woman’s cucumbers, something made her look up. Two aisles across from her, standing directly in front of her, facing her, she spied a man whose face she recognized but had never looked at. It was the village potter—a widower. He was eating a banana. He was holding it in a strong hand with long tapering fingers. With his other hand, he was snapping the heads off of mushrooms and handing them to the vendor, who dropped them into a brown paper sack and weighed them. Valeria nearly gasped when she saw how gallantly he carried himself. She wondered why she’d never noticed that before, why she’d never noticed him before. “Darling,” she said too loudly.”
Using Greek underpinnings and folktale imagery, Marc Fitten weaves a complex story of lives lifted from the questionable mire with the promise of something better, something more. The rich and flawed characters in "Valeria’s Last Stand" show us that loving and accepting people for who they are can be a gentle service that sparks new life and ignites the soul. (less)