Graphic the Valley by Peter Brown Hoffmeister
Publisher: Tyrus Books. July 18, 2013
Genre: Literary Fiction
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It took me a while to get comfortable with this book. The writing style is sparse, but lyrical. Often written in fragmented sentences. After a while, though, it fell away and all I had left to see was the story and the beautiful Yosemite valley. This book is about the life of Tenaya, a young man who has been raised his whole life camping in the Yosemite National Park. It starts with his accidental killing of a new, corporate park superintendent. Tenaya has gone through some other horrible things, but his past unfolds slowly and delicately throughout the novel. We have to follow him surviving completely off the grid and dealing with the growing commercialization of the park before we get to know him better. But it's worth it.
This novel is very powerful as a whole and in its singular moments. Several times while reading this on the subway I found myself audibly gasping and covering my mouth. Hoffmeister brings us very close to the main character; his thoughts and how he perceives the valley. How he embodies the Valley and its history. Unrelated, but Tenaya is also an avid rock climber/boulderer (he doesn't wear shoes, which is so hardcore). I'm getting into rock climbing, so this was exciting for me. This book just kept surprising me with little things to be entranced by.
The book is described as a modern day retelling of Samson and Delilah, but I thought it was only lightly so. Certainly not enough to entitle sections of the book with their names. I thought the book was mythic enough to stand without that support. The relationships he has with two women are interesting and intimate, but I felt like the women characters could have been rounded out more. Calling one a Delilah wasn't quite enough for me.
Overall, Graphic the Valley is a great piece that shows the importance of the issue with commercialization of national parks (a topic that I've never really thought about, as I've never been to one). It also ultimately shows the incredible power of nature that is often ignored or forgotten in a breathtaking ending.
I didn't know what Yosemite looked like, but this video gave me an idea of how pretty it is.
Yosemite HD II from Project Yosemite on Vimeo.
"There was the Valley, and the Valley was in me, and the Valley was with me."
"The man smiled like a forest fire."
"My bones flourish like grass. His worms will not die."
"He brought the cigar up to his lips and puffed, the smell like two fingers snapping in front of my eyes."
"'We need that long-term suffering in our lives. That struggle. That abject fear. We need the carabiners humming with electricity against the anchor bolts, bright blue and shaking.'"
Outlandishness Rating: 7/10
The writing style took me by surprise and the narrative is pretty nonlinear, with glimpses into Tenaya's past floating in and out of the current-day story. Each chapter also starts with a fragment of an older story having to do with the valley's Native American history. Finishing it made me want to reread to see all of the different things being laid out, now that I know how it all ended.