"Down in the Valley" ($11.95 in paperback from Stansbury Publishing) is billed as "a collection of four stories and a novella set in a small college town." For retired Chico State University English professor Clark Brown, the fictional "Yana City" "exists somewhere in the imagination, though the stories themselves take place loosely from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s.
"Here now in Yana City," Brown writes in "Wilderness," about an English department fight at Yana State College, "you were aware of your surroundings all right--mountains and valley floor and the great slow river--and the sky, always, the sky--but the town seemed lost in space and time, as though it had drifted from its moorings or fled from its orbit. Really, it was like a secret village you stumbled upon in a fairytale, as astonishing little world going busily about its affairs, undiscovered and uncaring. Oh, but the heat!"
Brown will be braving the elements, signing books and reading from his collection tonight at Lyon Books in Chico at 7:00 p.m.
In "Cézanne's Fingers," the shortest of the pieces, Philip Moore has been deputized by his college department to ask American Studies prof Charlie Harris to leave the school after being caught passing off a student paper as his own. Charlie intertwines his hands. "'The painter Paul Cézanne,' he intoned, shucking off his gloves, 'used to link his fingers like this, to show how everything is locked together. You know?'"
"When Evildoers Come At Me" tells the tale of young Alan Maeghers, full time student at Yana State, who finds himself at the center of several affairs and a Religious Studies major to boot. "The advantage," he says, "of majoring in Religious Studies--'Rel Studs,' as the schedule has it--is that you can appear extremely sensitive without actually having to believe anything."
"A Thing Decided," the novella, is the gripping diary of one Harlan Fort, who discovers the previous tenant, Stephen Bard, had died under mysterious circumstances "the summer of '78." For Fort, "I meddle, therefore I am." The truth uncovered is unsettling, shocking even, though, Harlan muses, "isn't that what this whole adventure has been about--the unsuspected people within us?"
Brown evokes those "unsuspected people" within the reader as well. Meddler!