Patrick Faller's Reviews > The New Valley: Novellas

The New Valley by Josh Weil
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Apr 14, 11


This collection of three novellas takes as its setting the tree-choked chute of land along the New River that cuts West Virginia from its parent state, and each of the novellas opens the door a little wider on the characters peopling this valley. The first and strongest novella, "Ridge Weather," works against the other two for its reliance on simple narrative and the use of setting to evoke the deep, soul-aching loneliness of its protagonist, Osby Caudill, whose life-long work raising cattle becomes his only outlet for his grief when his father commits suicide. The language of work shapes the second novella, the much more tightly cyclical "Stillman Wing," in which the protagonist (the Stillman from the title), a lifelong hypochondriac and father to a daughter who lives her life in defiance of every value her father tries to instill in her, spends several years slowly and methodically rebuilding a Deutz tractor while the rest of the townspeople begin to shun the residents of a hippy commune whose children are slowly and mysterious dying off. The longest of the novellas, "Sarverville Remains," has received the highest praise from other reviewers for its voice and its pathos. The story takes the form of a confessional letter written by a mentally handicapped young man to the husband of a hard-bitten woman with whom the protagonist has fallen blithely in love. As the story winds to a close, Weil builds momentum by infusing the narrative with elements from the crime-fiction genre: a case of double-identity and financial exploitation in which the protagonist plays the role of the patsy. While Weil skirts the risk of melodrama by affording his protagonist the slow realization that he's been duped, there's something discomfitting about the way he's exploited a mentally handicapped individual for the sake of narrative tension. Still, the novella is affecting, perhaps in spite of the ethical risks Weil has taken, and it serves to reinforce the strong sense of loneliness Weil created more strongly in the other narratives, in which his protagonists make and reckon with the choices they've made; the circumscribed lives they lead turn out to be as silent, and as formidable, as the forested hills surrounding them.

If I've done anything to peak your interest in reading "The New Valley," then it's definitely worth your time to check out Anthony Doerr's review of Weil's book in the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/07/boo...

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