There is an underlying fluidity, impermanence and shaky confidence at the core of Ruth Galm’s hyper-vigilant and engrossing debut novel, Into the Valley, that is both unsettling and, ultimately, victorious.
From this novel’s simple opening sentence — “She took the forged check to the bank and cashed it.” — to its concise, shocking and surprising conclusion, it is a gorgeous, lyrical meditation. In it, Galm’s focus never shifts from the inner voice of a complex, elusive 30-year-old woman called B (short for Beverly) drifting from one self-realization to the next in “the American West of early Joan Didion.”
Indeed, Into the Valley comes fully stocked with the personal chaos, social anxiety and existential dread that Didion documented so well in her novels and essays from that period. Drifting from bank to bank, tempting fate to intervene and ruin her, Galm’s protagonist traverses the main drags and backroads of California’s Central Valley, “unfettered and alive” as Joni Mitchell once wrote of another similarly adrift character. Yet she’s haunted and often halted from true freedom by an omnipresent angst, something she calls “the carsickness,” though B knows it has less to do with motion sickness than the iron-bound psychological chains from which only she can free herself.
Although the landscape is gorgeously spare and solitary, there are brilliantly drawn encounters with other similarly bohemian, weary travelers, though B’s transformation is hers alone to discover. As this brilliant and exciting new author writes, “It seemed a natural part of the new gift … the relentless truth, the laying bare.” While this novel’s denouement is shocking and violent, it’s B’s own discovery of her personal redemption that makes this novel triumphant.