Thursday, December 27, 2018

Book 161: Valley of the Moon

"It is naive, I know, but you never think the unspeakable thing will happen to you. That is something that happens to other people. That is the accident you watch from the side of the road, unable to tear your eyes away from the mangled body in the street, a stranger, somebody's mother, somebody's daughter, somebody's sister, somebody's wife. Somebody's beloved, but not yours. Never yours."  

Dates read: July 17-20, 2017

Rating: 7/10

What is "women's fiction"? It seems to mean mostly books written by women with a primarily female audience in mind. It concerns things like relationships and marriage, family and friendships. Basically, it treats women and the things that are important to many of us as serious topics worthy of literary output. But there's an undeniable prejudice against women's lit: books by and about women are considered books for women, while books by and about men are considered books for everyone. Women are asked to think critically and empathize with the viewpoints of men, and that's great, but why isn't the reverse true?

I started thinking about my own bias about female-driven books when I read Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud a while back, and I resolved to do better. And so I picked up Melanie Gideon's Valley of the Moon, a book about time travel with a romance element. The story is told in alternating viewpoint chapters: that of Joseph, living at the turn of the 20th century in Greengage, a kind of commune in the Bay Area, and that of Lux, a single mother of a biracial child living in 1975 San Francisco and working as a waitress to make ends meet. Joseph's community in the Valley of the Moon experiences the earthquake that rocked San Francisco in 1906, but in a very different way: they find themselves surrounded by a thick, poisonous fog, cutting them off completely from the outside world. Until one day, when Lux walks out of the fog and into their lives.

Lux, for her part, has just reluctantly shipped off her young son Benno to visit her estranged parents in New England for a month. She decides to go camp in the Valley of the Moon one night, and awakens to find herself surrounded by fog. She walks through, and meets Joseph, his wife Martha, his sister Fancy, and the rest of the people who make up Greengage. Joseph left his wealthy life in Europe and founded the community based on the principles his warm-hearted, egalitarian mother lived by: everyone works, and everyone's work is valued. Lux finds herself enjoying her time in the past, and develops a rough estimate of how time passes in Greengage relative to the real world, allowing her to make periodic visits without being missed.

Well, mostly. Two major developments in the book stem from time working differently than it was "supposed" to. If you're a reader who wants a logical explanation for the events of the books you read, this will likely be bothersome. But for me, I found it kind of refreshing that there was never any real attempt at an explanation of how or why the time travel happened or worked. It's a device that can cause many a plot hole if there's too strong an attempt to get into the mechanics of it, and I think that for all practical intents and purposes, you either have to buy into time travel in a story or put it down. Besides, Valley of the Moon isn't trying to tell a story about particle physics or whatever it might be that would make time travel possible. It's a story about two people, from two different times, building a connection.

The immediate comparison to be made for any time travel relationship story is The Time Traveler's Wife. Which is a high bar to clear, because many people (myself included) really liked that book. And while this one isn't as good, I was still surprised at how much I did enjoy it. It's not the type of book I'm usually drawn to, but Gideon paints interesting, complex characters (particularly Lux) and tells a compelling story about them. I liked the way she handled the romance, neatly sidestepping the insta-love that drives me up the wall about a lot of books in the genre and instead giving it time to develop organically. I also liked that it wasn't the most important element of the narrative: Lux's relationships with her family, friends and co-workers, and her own personal development, are all given plenty of space to grow. This novel isn't going to change anyone's world, but it's easy and pleasurable to read, and that's what counts at the end of the day. I'd recommend it to anyone.

Tell me, blog friends...which genres do you shy away from that you think you should give another chance?

One year ago, I was reading: Rebecca

Two years ago, I was reading: The Guineveres

Three years ago, I was reading: Hood


  1. I loved this book; I thought Lux was a wonderful character, and so was Joseph.

    1. It was honestly so enjoyable to read! I loved the characters