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Valley of the Moon


Valley of the Moon

Melanie Gideon’s second work of fiction, VALLEY OF THE MOON, begins like a fairly conventional historical novel. The year is 1906, and Joseph, leader of a utopian farming community outside San Francisco, casts his mind back to the previous century and to his childhood in England. Years of privilege, emotional neglect and family tragedy have made their mark on Joseph, who is convinced that he is doing the right thing by developing this beautiful new community of Greengage, dedicated to inclusion and equality for all, regardless of sex, race or ethnicity.

But something odd is about to happen to Greengage, something the reader doesn’t quite grasp until dipping into the very different life story of Lux, a young single mother living in San Francisco in 1975. In many ways, Lux’s life --- economic independence, sexual freedom, the ability to speak and think freely --- is everything Joseph believed in and fought for. But in reality, her life is far from perfect. She struggles to make ends meet as a waitress, worries about neglecting her young son, Benno, and is haunted by her estrangement from the man whose company once meant everything to her: her father.

"VALLEY OF THE MOON offers a vivid reminder to readers about the mutability of our experience of time, even in a world outside of Greengage."

Simultaneously nervous and exhilarated by a few days of freedom as Benno flies across the country to spend time with her parents, Lux heads out to the Valley of the Moon for a solo camping trip, a bit of an escape. But when she wanders through a thick fog, and into Greengage, she also travels through time --- and into a community and relationships that will come to define the rest of her life.

It turns out that the infamous San Francisco earthquake of 1906 somehow dislodged Greengage from the ordinary passage of time. Time is out of joint --- a single month there might translate to years or even decades in the outside world --- and while the “real world” may have advanced to 1975, it’s still 1906 in Greengage. No one there can escape into the fog without dying, and no one from the outside world has penetrated the fog --- until Lux.

Without giving away too much, suffice it to say that Lux’s time in Greengage transforms her life and the lives of those around her, from Benno to Lux’s parents, from Lux’s professional ambitions to her romantic desires. More and more, she finds herself trying to straddle the gap between her world and Joseph’s, sometimes with bittersweet or even catastrophic results. And occasionally, her time in Greengage brings her strength, purpose and great joy.

As Melanie Gideon crafts a propulsive and at times deeply suspenseful novel, told through Joseph’s and Lux’s alternating points of view, she also utilizes their experiences to offer powerful and perceptive considerations about the passage of time, the shape of our lives, and the often unintended effects our actions have on the people and communities around us. The novel’s concluding chapter may seem somewhat abrupt (and also raises questions about the kinds of time travel paradoxes that can vex readers), but the remainder of VALLEY OF THE MOON offers a vivid reminder to readers about the mutability of our experience of time, even in a world outside of Greengage.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on August 5, 2016

Valley of the Moon
by Melanie Gideon

  • Publication Date: June 6, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books
  • ISBN-10: 0345539303
  • ISBN-13: 9780345539304