Graphic the Valley by Peter Brown Hoffmeister (Tyrus Books, July 18, 2013) – I’m always leery of modern retellings of fables or myths and with good reason. Writers can easily fall into the trap of allowing the inspiration of their story to take over the work. I wouldn’t call it laziness as much as a display of the original piece being stronger than the writer’s ability to convey its spirit more than its substance.
Graphic the Valley is a rare case where a writer takes said inspiration, in this case Samson and Delilah, and not only distills the myth to its very essence, but expands upon it through the eye of the Native American experience.
Tenaya was born in the back of his parent’s car. Living illegally in Yosemite National Park his entire life, he struggles against the encroaching of the American corporate machine, old family feuds, and his own hair-triggered temper. At his best in the only place he calls home, Yosemite, Tenaya will go to desperate measures to ensure that never changes and to ensure that he finds meaning and maybe a little peace in life.
Peter Brown Hoffmeister has managed an impressive feat of beauty with Graphic the Valley. At first blush, it stands out as a very standard coming of age novel. What it turns into is something closer to a landscape painting—inspired by the beauty of Yosemite a chosen few get to see. Tenaya is a man in very loose terms. He’s not a product of the modern world, but more a victim. Still, he’s deeply troubled and at many times a complete brat. He doesn’t have a leg to stand on in the “real” world and while he rails against it like any cultural hero would, it’s up in the air if this is for the best. Should a person without a concept of how the “American” world works be able to fight against it? If so, is Tenaya’s methods sound, or is he really just another boy thinking he’s a man.
Hoffmeister goes to great lengths to explore those concepts. Tenaya is exposed to multiple sources of strife and handles it all with the grace that befits a young man who seems almost mythical to begin with. He has so much going for him, but a hubris that curses him to find his way into the worst of situations. It’s a fascinating study to take a culture so rich with its own mythology and to attach an outside mythology to it. Tenaya is very much Samson—wild, strong, and eerily charismatic.
Through all of this, the reader is also treated to a call for preservation as well, not necessarily subtle but also not ham-fisted. Hoffmeister intends for his reader to side with Tenaya, even with his flaws, because he does fight for something noble and beautiful. Yosemite is worth preserving, even at the cost of this young man. Powerful message indeed.
I highly recommend Graphic the Valley. It’s beautifully written and thoroughly engaging. A powerful read that sticks with you well after you’re done—and easily stands up to multiple readings.