5.24.2012

Review: Valley Boy, by Jack Remick

Valley Boy
by Jack Remick
Cofeetown Press
May 1, 2012
254 pgs
The second book in Jack Remick's "California Quartet," Valley Boy follows its predecessor, 2011's The Deification, in basic bildungsroman structure. It's about a young man on a journey to find himself and his place in the world. But unlike the messy first book of the quartet (which mostly made me want to vomit, my head was spinning so hard), Valley Boy has a straightforward narrative, a simpler plot, and much more likable characters. 

It is also much more rooted in reality than The Deification. Whether that's a good thing or not is completely subjective, but the realism was certainly a boon for this particular novel and made it a much better homage than the first book.

The bulk of this story takes place in Central Valley, California which is apparently one of those places you're born in and you die in, but you never move there on purpose and, chances are, you'll never leave. Ricky is a third generation Californian of solid dust bowl Okie stock. Both his character and Remick's story seem to be veritable descendants of the Joads in Californian John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. Ricky's family came to California like the Joads did, in search of work, in search of a living. 

A product of, and victim of, the diaspora, Ricky's mother is a musical prodigy wrapped up in and bound by a religion that Ricky cannot and does not wish to comprehend, and everyone can't help but make fun of poor Okie Ricky with his Frisco jeans and his low aspirations. But while Ricky's coming-of-age is central to the story, the novel's female characters are its strongest: from Ricky's gifted pianist mother to the waitress at the Sno-White, the female contingent is what inevitably drives the novel forward. This is made flesh in Ricky's hallucination of the raven-haired woman who later comes into being. 

The women literally push and pull Ricky toward the future. As a result, the other male characters are somewhat sidelined and turn out either rather puny (Ricky's best friend who is a wastrel whose aspirations are even lower) or larger than life caricatures (the rich Mexican father, Ricky's own prodigal father, and the dean at Berkley, the owner of the junk yard). Mr. W, Ricky's mentor who finally shows his mother the way out of her shell, seems to be the only male character besides Ricky who seems thoughtfully sketched: an indication, perhaps, of the man Ricky could grow up to be.

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