Carson Valley, the place, lies in Sonoma County, 80 miles north of San Francisco. It is an agricultural center, a prime spot for growing wine grapes, though its character has been changing as the nearby city of Santa Rosa extends its suburbs deeper into the valley. Carson Valley,
the novel, is the first such offering by accomplished short-story writer and essayist Bill Barich. It details the changing fortunes of vineyard owner Victor Torelli, his family, and the people who labor in his fields. The novel begins with Victor's daughter, Anna, returning to the valley after a failed marriage to care for her ailing mother. Despite her resolve not to become involved in any further romantic entanglements, Anna is drawn to the vineyard's manager, Arthur, a man with a checkered past, a propensity to drink at the first sign of trouble, and the unlikely capacity to love completely and without reservation.
First and foremost, Carson Valley is a love story--the love between a man and a woman, between father and daughter, between friends, and also love for the land. Barich, who once lived in vineyard country, brings the valley to life and peoples it with fully realized, deeply sympathetic characters who lodge in the reader's memory long after the book is read.
From Kirkus Reviews
First novel from the author of a story collection (Hard to Be Good, 1987) and of a nonfiction attempt to define the great state of California (Big Dreams, 1994). Barich's setting is the grape-growing region of northern California, as good a place as any to muse on the mythology of the state. His protagonist, Arthur Atwater, manages a large vineyard for its aged patriarch, Victor Torelli. Atwater has a checkered past--substance abuse problems and a brief career as a hippie--but he's committed to delivering the crop for Torelli, who has given him ``a third chance.'' Atwater is a confirmed bachelor, a loner, and he throws himself fanatically at his task. Through his and Torelli's eyes, the reader sees the old, Italian California; the coming, gentrified California; and the ordinary, blue-collar California. Into the mix Barich skillfully weaves a subplot concerning Mexican legals and illegals, and his scenes in Tijuana, in particular, show great range. But at the core of the story is a modern, believable, touching romance between Atwater and Torelli's daughter, Anna, who's come home from New York because her mother is dying. Such a love story, marred neither by genre conventions nor ideology, is a considerable feat in the current climate, and, given Barich's attention to detail in the vineyard, along with his graceful, contemplative style, makes this a very good novel, indeed. One might be tempted to compare it to East of Eden, say, except that Barich, in relating to nature, lacks Steinbeck's quirky pantheism, and his view of the world is far gentler than Steinbeck's. But he resembles his elder in that he writes beautifully and, for his own time, captures California. Barich is also often quite amusing, particularly during scenes satirizing the literary life in New York City, upon Anna's return there. A quietly but genuinely remarkable debut. -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.