Thursday, July 15, 2010

Stories that focus on the sleazy side of Oroville


Long-time Butte County resident Leslie Hale Roberts is married, the father of two sons, and a careful observer of the estranged and marginalized. He characterizes himself in an author's note as a disabled athlete, "founder of the Institute of Absurdity" and "a friend of those who suffer or fail."

There is much suffering, and much failure, in the thirty-nine "traditional and experimental narratives" that constitute "Voices of a City of Gold: Stories From Oroville, California" ($16.95 in paperback from Von Grafen Productions, available at The author writes me that the stories focus "on the lives of the . . . forgotten. . . . I believe it is an authentic depiction, offensive in some cases, and revealing and even tender in others. I have chosen to use often-vulgar language and perhaps irregular formatting and editing in hopes of capturing the essence of their existence."

The stories are not for the faint of heart. Framed by the trash talk of Duane and Mike, who repeatedly wind up in the Butte County jail, they show in expletive-laden agony men, women and children at the outskirts of "acceptable" society. Here there is prostitution, theft and thuggery, substance abuse (crystal meth is the drug of choice), and sexual violence visited on spouses and children. There is hardly a paragraph in the book that can be quoted in a family newspaper.

One narrator finds Oroville, "despite efforts from the city fathers to otherwise arrest the slide, now in the throes of decay and decadence, hope--and innocence--clinging to its tatters. . . . Unfortunately, the heart of Oroville, like many spent gold field villages, has cancered, its core no longer vibrant but in varying stages of rot." Oroville may be a recreational paradise, but some, many perhaps, are confined to a hellish existence.

The theme of "do not judge" runs throughout the book, though another narrator can't help but deliver a "morality sandwich" about the horrible legacy left by "the single mother with unattended kids."

The characters want to change, but can't. Lest the reader take too much "voyeuristic pleasure in . . . how those below so often fare," the stories, even as they assault common decency, provide uncomfortable moments of recognition. Let the reader understand.


l.robuis said...

I got a copy of the book last week and yeah, it's pretty harsh in some respects, but it's real honest, too. I think it can be read on several levels: for the direct voyeuristic pleasure of seeing people below you suffer, and on a other level, too, that of looking out at an historical period, where the author is trying to find dignity and grace in the lives of people you would not normally associate those qualities with. I first found the book objectionable, but have since re-considered: it is art, first and foremost, and like some art, it may offend as it illustrates. Great job to Leslie for her very fine work!

martin branson said...

I just got a copy of this book over at Discount in Oroville; kind of shocking at first, you don't really understand until it gets going but, man, what a surprise! I couldn't put it down, and how she interpreted all those different characters to make them all seem so real, so much in their own voices; it makes me think she must be channeling these people, not creating them!

While some may shrug and not care enough to look deeper into each story's meaning, I have found a great depth there; so much beyond the surface and our reactions, there really is something almost noble about these characters, as dirty as some of them are.

I want to find out more about Leslie: who is she, where did she accrue so many talents, and is there more of her work I can read? Thanks, Martin G. Branson