Friday, September 07, 2007
Writer recalls Chico State College in the mid-'60s
By DAN BARNETT
Dick Carlsen, who with his wife, Cathy, lives in Virginia Beach, Va., writes that he "graduated from Chico State College in 1968, received my master's from Indiana University in 1973, and have been working for the Navy as a government civilian employee for 34 years."
He recently published his first novel, which takes place at the college in the years 1964-1967, called "Happy Valley College" ($17.99 in paper from www.authorhouse.com).
Carlsen says the book "has a strong undercurrent of the Vietnam War and military draft." The author adds that "the reader will also pick up some similarities between the Vietnam War and the war in Iraq, where my son is currently serving."
Carlsen's twin brother, Don, is a Chico resident and NFL official.
The story is told by Dave Pederson, whose parents drive him to meet his twin brother Dan at "Happy Valley College" north of Yuba City. What follows is a chronicle of free-spirited guys in their natural element: keggers, rowdiness, romances, sports, spring break, keggers and, on occasion, classes. Actually, the group of guys who formed the "Raiders" (a kind of alternative to the fraternities on campus) ended up doing pretty well in school, but that's not the focus of the book. Transition is.
The prologue takes place years later, when Dave Pederson visits the portable Vietnam War Wall set up at a Naval base in Maryland, and maybe such an event was the catalyst for Carlsen to write his account.
The book reads more like memoir than novel, and I found myself reliving my own time at Chico State during those same years. Carlsen remembers the "CAC," the student center later replaced by the Bell Memorial Union. But for some reason he renames the nearby park "Sutter Park & named after General John Sutter, the founder of Happy Valley whose beautiful Victorian mansion sat off The Boulevard and adjacent to the college property, and was used for a 1930s movie 'Robin Hood'."
The language is sometimes rough, and swearwords abbreviated in the first half are spelled out in the last.
When the draft becomes a reality there is little talk of fleeing to Canada or becoming conscientious objectors. Everyone wanted to get into the reserves, and through a chance encounter Dave succeeds. Later, though, when his drill sergeant is lost in the war, Dave applies for active duty.
Maybe his reason suggests the "outrageously crazy days" at Happy Valley were bought with a price: "I want," he says, "to make up for my indifference toward the war and our soldiers when I was in college."
Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright 2007 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.