CALIFORNIA TIME by Ernest J. Finney


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 A well-crafted but narratively undercooked story of life in California's Central Valley during the three decades following WW I. Finney, as in his previous fiction with California settings (Flights in the Heavenlies, 1996, etc.), deftly evokes both time and place with appropriately vivid descriptions--e.g., the way raisins are made and strawberries picked--but the story told here by his various and sundry characters is more like a motley collection of sketches than a full rural saga. It begins in 1928, when the wounded sailor Peter Hart arrives in the Valley to manage the town's hotel, and it ends in Italy during WW II as Julian, a young Italian American reared in the Valley, now a war hero and embryonic journalist, changes his mind about going AWOL and decides to return home, sickened by the pointless carnage. In between these tales fits another about three families--the Portuguese Brazils, the Italian Palestinis, and the Japanese Hamadas--and their relations with one another and the locals in changing times. Their story is told by a range of voices, including that of Hortense Brazil, who has admired Julian since they first rode the school bus together; schoolmate Grayson Hamada, whose elder sister Reiko is Hortense's best friend; and Fred, an orphan from ``dust bowl Oklahoma'' who is helped by Peter and soon falls for Reiko. The action takes in hunts in the mountains for bear and deer, organized by Ray, Reiko, and Grayson Hamada's irrepressible grandfather; the sharing of labor at harvest time; the travail of the Depression; and farming setbacks and triumphs. Also dealt with is the outbreak of war. The Hamadas are summarily put in a remote camp in Arizona, and Reiko and Fred's love is destroyed by her rage at her family's internment. Nice vignettes, but little more.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-87417-311-6
Page count: 240pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1998


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