Andrew Valencia: Lord of California

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  • Название:
    Lord of California
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    Ig Publishing
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    Социально-психологическая фантастика / на английском языке
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    New York
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Lord of California: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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“A remarkable debut. Valencia writes with a sinuous maturity, a boldness of vision far beyond his years. In Lord of California, this beyond-seeing is literal: wild, impressive, at times menacing invention about what a separatist California might look like begins to look downright prescient, and Valencia’s portraitist skill with his characters lifts them off the page, too.”

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Andrew Valencia


I will listen
as though you spoke and told
me all you never knew
of why the earth takes
back all she gives and
even that comes to be enough.

—Philip Levine

There is blood, there, he says
Blood here too, down here, she says
Only blood, the Blood Mother sings

—Juan Felipe Herrera


Daddy was a fancy man. He used to come around twice a year to see us kids. Each time he’d walk through the door hauling a stack of presents so high you couldn’t see but the point of his head over the gold and silver-wrapped packages. Jessie would work herself into a stink all year waiting for him to show up, and then once he appeared she’d get so excited about the doll or dress he brought her that she’d forget she was ever mad at him to begin with. The last time Daddy came home, Mama whispered to me that a woman ought not to be as forgiving as Jessie, or else she’ll be setting herself up to always be wronged. I’d just turned thirteen and the way Mama talked to me had changed. Time before that she’d scolded me for saying I was too big for the doll Daddy had bought me and that I’d never liked playing with dolls to begin with. Should’ve seen the look on her face then, after she’d shushed me and dragged me squirming into the kitchen. Nowadays most girls get stuck playing with knock-off Barbies from the supermarket, she’d said, and so I should be grateful to have a daddy who could afford to buy me real porcelain beauties from a specialty store on the coast. Six months without seeing him, two months without a word, and that was the lesson she decided to take from the situation. That was Mama. There was always a war waging inside her, with fear on one side of the battlefield, and self-respect on the other.

I say Daddy was fancy on account of no other man I ever knew dressed as well as him or smelled so clean all the time. As seldom as we saw him—as seldom as we had new clothes—we got to notice how different he was from us and Mama and everyone else we knew in the valley. Even though, according to Mama, not all of our neighbors were as well-off as us, or as dignified. Back when we were farming down in Hanford, there was a family that settled one winter on the parcel next to ours, the Mendeses—mother, father, and kids all working together in the orchard alongside their aunts, uncles, and cousins. No hired laborers, no foremen. Me and Jessie used to play sometimes with the Mendes kids, Javier and Ruby, but Mama didn’t like us to. She never tried to keep us from seeing them, but we were forbidden from running around the orchards barefoot like they did. Way she put it, any girl who goes barefoot outside is bound to have elephant soles and bunions by the time she’s thirty. Try getting your man to rub your feet then, she’d say, even though we’d never seen Daddy do anything of the sort for her. I tried telling her that the Mendeses let Ruby go barefoot whenever she wanted, but that only proved her case as far as she was concerned. With her dark arm hair and graceless paunch, Ruby Mendes was everything Mama feared we’d become if we had to grow up poor. And even after we left the farm and moved on to other things, the memory of that homely, ham-fisted little girl seemed to vindicate for her all the choices she’d made up to the moment Daddy died, as if her prudent thinking was made evident in the softness of our hands and disinclination toward lesbianism.

Little while after Daddy had gone, one of his other wives invited us up to Reedley for the most awkward family reunion imaginable, a chance for the Temple kids to get to know all the half-brothers and half-sisters we’d only just found out about. Without saying a whole lot, Mama ironed our best clothes and piled us into the van for the short trip north to Fresno County. Between Daddy’s passing and the discovery of the other wives, these past months had hit Mama hard, launching her into one of her sad stretches so that she kept to the bed most hours of the day while I cooked the meals, managed the foremen, and looked after Jessie and little Gracie. There was no consoling Mama when she got like that. But once the other Mrs. Temple called and the obligation to be civil was on her again, she roused herself out from under the covers and took the reins of the family back up like nothing had ever happened. She was even chatty on the drive up, pointing out certain spots along the roadside and remarking on how much the land had changed since disbandment and the founding of the Republic. I peered out the window and tried to imagine the old interstate highways and national retailers the way she described them, but there was nothing in that boundless dry country to inspire dreams of former glory, nothing to suggest a bond of greatness so strong its likeness could remain visible so long after its breaking. All we saw were a hundred other little farms just like ours, a hundred other families struggling to get by on whatever they could reap from year to year.

Such was the farm where we realized for the first time the full scope of Daddy’s legacy—four wives and nine kids, not counting us, all congregated on the gravel yard of a country ranch house, under the shadow of a paper banner with WELCOME TEMPLES scrawled across it in craft paint. Katie was a real personable old girl, more lively and energetic than Mama even though she was at least ten years older. She spent the first part of the afternoon tending to the chicken on the charcoal grill and knocking back bottles of homebrewed porter with Dawn, the youngest of Daddy’s brides. No sooner had Mama added her macaroni salad to the table than Katie swooped in for a hug. She was full-bodied and strong enough to knock the wind from her system, so it was a relief to see Mama feigning cheer to get through this first encounter. I knew it couldn’t have been easy. Even on good days, it was sometimes hard for her to let me and my sisters get close like that.

Hello there, Katie said, squatting down to the same level as Gracie. What’s your name?

Gracie grabbed Mama’s leg and hid behind the skirt of her sundress.

She’s being shy, Mama said.

Katie stood up straight. I understand, honey, she said. And this must be Ellie the genius. Your mom said you were as smart as they come, girl, but I wasn’t expecting to find you looking like a magazine fashion model as well.

I was never one to blush, especially at the flattery of strangers, but the idea that Mama was bragging about me to one of Daddy’s other wives had me feeling as shy as Gracie all of a sudden. Thank you, Mrs. Temple.

Katie, she said. Aunt Katie, if you want.

Thank you. Katie.

We so appreciate you having us over, Mama said. I know it couldn’t have been easy to organize something like this, what with everything that’s happened.

It’s no trouble, honey, Katie said. Can’t tell you how happy I am to have us all together in one place. Almost makes me wish it had happened a lot sooner.

She winked at Mama, who laughed falsely and excused herself to go freshen up.

We ate dinner around a long picnic table, the whole Temple clan packed together yet still separated according to which mother we had come with. The one I felt worst for was Dawn, who had no children of her own and sat drinking beer and nibbling fruit ambrosia at the far corner of the table while the other wives made chitchat about TV series and summer vacation schedules. Claudia, Daddy’s wife from Dinuba, sat across from us with her brood of three lanky boys and one slobbering two-year-old girl. Her oldest boy, Anthony, kept giving me the stink eye throughout the entire meal. Finally I dropped my plastic fork and leaned over to him.

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