Into the Valley

Image of Into the Valley
Release Date: 
August 3, 2015
Soho Press
Reviewed by: 

On July 1, 1967, B. passes her first counterfeit check. Caught between the shifting worlds of the counterculture youth movement, with which she can find nothing beautiful or good, and that of her mother's, oppressive yet lovely in its trappings of perfect wash and set hair and outward appearances, B. has left college.  

Suffering from what B. calls her “car sickness,” which has nothing to do with cars, and that can come on at the slightest sign of psychological distress, B. discovers the best cure is, at first, hearing about the counterfeit checks her Irish janitor boyfriend tells her about. Soon the sickness is only alleviated by counterfeiting the checks herself.

B. decides to leave the cities and search for a faceless valley, a place without much character in California. A nod to “Hills like White Elephants” by Hemingway, though without the abortion story, the valley is a symbol of B.’s internal emotional states. She buys a Mustang with the cash from her first bad check and takes to the open road, abandoning her job and most of her belongings in search of who knows what.

B. is always careful of her makeup and intensely aware of the ivory sheath and the stains, sweat, and odor it gathers as she travels with little else to wear. Her mother has taught her daughter to be the perfect woman with coiffed hair, gloved hands, pumps, stockings, and ballet lessons to elongate her neck and perfect her stride, and yet B. doesn't want to be noticed, doesn't want to be cared for, not in the way her mother's generation were taught to need and want. But at the same time B. is lost in how to care for herself, despite being thirty years old.

Author Ruth Galm has written a beautiful novel filled with poetic language. Readers will engage all five senses in this novel, they will feel the wind of the open road and the heat of the sun, the smell of the Mustang’s engine and taste the ice tea; they will hear the chatter of families at rest stops and the rushing silence as B. drives.  

The chapters vary in length, some no more than a single paragraph of conversation between B. and her mother, while others are comprised of lengthier flashbacks to childhood memories, such as those brought on by the sight of San Francisco's Chinese market.

Ruth Galm is a modern day Virginia Woolf. Critics have compared her to a young Joan Didion. With so much symbolism and allegory, as well as imaginative writing and depth of character, this is ideal reading for anyone who wants to be a writer to see what contemporary literary fiction is doing at its best.

Readers will find it difficult to set aside Into the Valley, even after they are done with it. Truly mesmerizing, the imagery will continue to fill their thoughts, drawing them back to the valley again and again.