Rev: The New Valley

Issue #110
Winter 2009-10

The New Valley, novellas by Josh Weil (Grove Press): Josh Weil drew me into The New Valley from the get-go. His language is exquisite, his sentences glorious. In fact, Weil writes the kind of sentences you want to sniff and then slosh around in your mouth for a while before heading into the next paragraph. The kind that make you set the book down and think, the kind that can break your heart with their truthful simplicity: “It was the hale bays that did it.”

His subjects are everyday men, guys in Wrangler jeans and flannel shirts, who smell like tobacco, sweat, and earth. Men who are better at cattle and machinery than women and conversation. In these novellas Weil underscores the repetition of small town, rural Virginia life and the tiny orbits the townsfolk follow through thick and thin. The church, the store, the bar, the cemetery, the gas station, the restaurant, the tractor, the cows, the cattle guard, the case of beer, the bales of hay. His characters work through grief and rage and confusion by using the landscape and the bricolage around them. In Ridge Weather, Osby faces his father’s suicide by cleaning up the room where the man shot himself. He hangs up his father’s boyhood clothes, smattered in blood, and it is heart wrenching. “Well, Osby thought, that’s how it is.”

Car engines drone in the background of these stories—always in the distance is the sound of others going somewhere on a highway, on a rural route. This background percussion underscores the loneliness of the here and now. “Some days the sound of the mailman’s truck is his only company,” describes Stillman Wing in the book’s middle novella. It’s with the senses that Weil excels, often playing one off another—sound with sight: “Outside, the small bright chirps of the peepers do to the summer night what the fireflies in the orchard do to the air.” Or smell and sound: “The sounds of all those people drifted up to him from the lit windows, homey sounds that conjured scents of soup pots and fresh bread.”

Although Ridge Weather, Stillman Wing, and Sarverville Remains stand as three separate, distinct novellas—a refreshing and engaging form under Weil’s guidance—they have an underlying unity to them. Each examines how men recover from loss in a “place where people knew how to keep apart.” —Sherrie Flick’s debut novel Reconsidering Happiness is out with University of Nebraska Press.