Clark Brown's fine collection of stories Down in the Valley offers vivid descriptions of the Sacramento Valley and a midsize town, Yana City. Here sun-seared fields, orchards, streets, houses, offices, and churches; and at the heart of it all, people who strenuously resist being understood. With an unsparing eye for character and gesture, Brown deftly brings us into their lives. We couldn't ask for a better guide. The writing is graceful and precise; always a pleasure. But be prepared for surprises and discoveries--not all of them welcome--as these five tales reveal our neighbors and ourselves. Read and enjoy! --George Keithley
Local readers of Down in the Valley will have fun noticing the recognizable sites (the old municipal building, the "downtown square," the "LeGrande" bar reminiscent of LaSalles in its fern-bar days) as they appear in the stories. But the stories are well worth reading on their own merits; they're peopled with intriguingly flawed characters whose motives often are mysterious, and Brown's evocation of a small college town surrounded by farm country--its hot dusty summers, sagging old houses set among ancient oaks, a big river flowing by--is finely drawn. . . . --Robert Speer, Chico News and Review
Clark Brown's Down in the Valley ($11.95 in paperback from Stansbury Publishing) is billed as "a collection of four stories and a novella set in a small college town."
For Brown, a retired Chico State University English professor, the fictional "Yana City" "exists somewhere in the imagination, though the stories themselves take place loosely from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s.
"Here now in Yana City," Brown writes in "Wilderness," about an English department fight at Yana State College, "you were aware of your surroundings all right -- mountains and valley floor and the great slow river -- and the sky, always, the sky -- but the town seemed lost in space and time, as though it had drifted from its moorings or fled from its orbit. Really, it was like a secret village you stumbled upon in a fairytale, an astonishing little world going busily about its affairs, undiscovered and uncaring. Oh, but the heat!"
In "Cézanne's Fingers," the shortest of the pieces, Philip Moore has been deputized by his college department to ask American Studies professor Charlie Harris to leave the school after being caught passing off a student paper as his own. Charlie intertwines his hands. "'The painter Paul Cézanne,' he intoned, shucking off his gloves, 'used to link his fingers like this, to show how everything is locked together. You know?'"
"When Evildoers Come At Me" tells the tale of young Alan Maeghers, full-time student at Yana State, who finds himself at the center of several affairs and a Religious Studies major to boot. "The advantage," he said, "of majoring in Religious Studies -- 'Rel Studs,' as the schedule has it -- is that you can appear extremely sensitive without actually having to believe anything."
"A Thing Decided," the novella, is the gripping diary of one Harlan Fort, who discovers the previous tenant, Stephen Bard, had died under mysterious circumstances "the summer of '78." For Fort, "I meddle, therefore I am." The truth uncovered is unsettling, shocking even, though, Harlan muses, "isn't that what this whole adventure has been about -- the unsuspected people within us?"
Brown evokes those "unsuspected people" within the reader as well. Meddler!--Dan Barnett, "Biblio File," The Buzz
Clark Brown, a retired Chico State University English professor and the author of About Chico, a collection of essays about the city, has recently published Down in the Valley, four short stories and a novella set in a college town in the Sacramento Valley.
The town is called Yana City, “named for the tribe the founders exterminated,” as the narrator in the closing pages of the novella puts it. The stories are set in the recent past, from the 1960s to 1980s, a time when Chico was more of a small town than it is now.
Down in the Valley is the sort of work I've been wishing for: stories set in a place modeled after Chico, although Brown notes in the preface that Yana City also exists “beyond specifics of time and place.”
I know from reading About Chico that Brown never sentimentalizes the city. His comments always have a bite to them. A couple of years ago, he contributed some comments — many of them withering — about Chico State's buildings in my E-R column “But This is Chico.”
I enjoy his perspective. Chico has more than enough sentimentalizers. He likes the place, but doesn't feel the need to get treacly about it.
Here are some excerpts from his stories that give his take on the local setting.
From the short story “Wilderness:” “The town seemed lost in space and time, as though it had drifted from its moorings or fled from it orbit. Really, it was like a secret village you stumbled upon in a fairytale, an astonishing little world going busily about its affairs, undiscovered and uncaring.”
Also from “Wilderness:” “At that time — long before the freeways, malls and big box stores — if you came from civilization, you entered from the south on two-lane blacktop, bumping along the railroad tracks ... past auto repair and discount tires, dusty car lots with shiny banners, past the 99 Club and Good Will ... until you reached with city plaza with its elms, orange trees, and gazebo and the downtown proper: the Municipal Building (pediment and columns), the Roman Revival post office, Harrison Clothiers, restaurants, banks, the Roxie Theater, delicatessens, coffee shops (pre-espresso), the Valley Oaks Hotel, the quaint Carnegie Library and bars, lots of bars, Yana City being a college town with a vengeance.”
From the novella “A Thing Decided:” “I have been walking to and from the college library in the mornings, returning after lunch by car. The heat continues to grow, and you inhale dust, tar, oil and exhaust. Still, clomping along as I do, I seem to sense the old invisible town swallowing me up, that eternal village where the pace is glacier slow and the talk forever of seed, crops and weather.”
From the short story “Cezanne's Fingers:” “Below, the valley spread — flat, dun, field upon field stretching toward the misty Coast Range ... North, where the freeway began, dark shapes of cattle emerged under scraggly oaks. Further on, the town trembled in the haze, sunken among trees. Here a water tower shone; there a radio spire glinted; and closer now a man-made lake quivered, flat and polished like old sliver, reflecting a milky sky. And all of it— trees, lake, spire, town — swam and shimmered in the heat, some fragment of a dream.”--Steve Brown
This site is copyright © 2002 by Heidelberg Graphics, Chico, California