Down in the Valley

Clark Brown

Much of this collection of four stories and one novella by Clark Brown is set in Yana City, a Sacramento Valley town “named for the tribe the founders exterminated.” Readers will quickly realize it’s more or less a stand-in for Chico during the 20-year period covered by the tales, starting in the mid-1960s, although Brown has taken pains to disguise it so that “it exists beyond specifics of time and place,” as he writes in his preface. Brown is a retired Chico State English professor who’s published a novel, The Disciple (Viking), and a collection of essays, About Chico, some of which appeared in this newspaper. His stories have also appeared in a wide range of journals, quarterlies and anthologies. Local readers of Down in the Valley will have fun noticing the recognizable sites (the old municipal building, the “downtown square,” the “LeGrand” 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. Indeed, the book’s only noticeable flaw, a minor one, is the presence of a few too many copyediting errors, especially for a book by an English prof.