Gotham Fiction teacher Josh Weil has just seen the release of his book The New Valley, a collection of three novellas.
The stories are set in the hardscrabble hill country of the Virginias, each story following the life of a different character. Publisher’s Weekly calls it “a stark and haunting triptych of novellas,” and acclaimed author Tim O’Brien says, “the quiet, mostly ordinary lives of the people who populate The New Valley shine with a strange and intense luminosity.”
In this opening passage from “Ridge Weather,” a man returns to the family homeplace after the funeral of his father:
Osby flicked on his brights. The windows that still had glass flared. He hadn’t been in there since the day he found his father. He could make out the glinting shape of Cortland’s pickup, parked at the top of the driveway. The front door to the house was still open. He’d forgotten to shut it. Or the ambulance guys had. Or the cops. They had come, looked things over. There wasn’t much guessing to do. Osby asked them not to clean it up, said he wanted to do it himself. It would help him seal the thing shut, he said, put a cap on it. When the neighbors offered to take care of things, he told them he’d already scrubbed and swept and burned what had to be burned. Truth was, he hadn’t touched a thing in there. The idea of going back in made his bowels go watery.
The truck sputtered, and he gave it a little gas, shook a cigarette out of a pack of Winstons, and sat, smoking. He knew he ought to go up there and close that door.
When Osby’s mother died, his father hadn’t let anyone help them take the body to the funeral home. They had wrapped her in the sheets and carried her down stairs, his father holding her under her arms, Osby clutching her cold ankles. She had smelled like old cabbage. Her body sagged, heavy as wet sand. His twelve year old, thin forearms strained and he struggled to keep his fingers locked around her legs. Halfway down the stairs, he dropped her. Her heels thwacked the hard, wood step, and he had thought how much that would hurt if she was alive. Outside, they hoisted her into the pickup and drove into town. His father hadn’t even let people gather in the house after the funeral. He had refused the casseroles and cakes they brought.
The next Saturday, Osby had helped him with an excavating job and they had sat in the bulldozer’s shovel, out of the cold wind, passing a thermos of steaming coffee between each other. “Ain’t going to have ‘em walking all over our place,” Osby’s father had said. “Big show.” And a week later, in the kitchen, digging shotgun pellets out of a rabbit with the tip of a knife: “When I go, I don’t want no noise about it. Don’t want the whole of ‘em traipsing around, tearing up the driveway, snooping around the Old House. Just dig a hole and dump me in.”
When he’d finished the cigarette, Osby rolled down his window, tossed out the butt, shoved down on the clutch, and put the truck in first. Behind the Old House, Bowmans Ridge, solid and black, smothered the bottom edge of the sky. After a while, his left calf muscle started to shake. He shifted into reverse, backed up onto the road, and drove home.