Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Seeking to free herself from critics who had unjustly challenged the historical veracity of the Japanese American characters of her first novel, Kadohata deliberately placed In the Heart of the Valley of Love into a future Los Angeles of the year 2052, and made Francie, her protagonist, a mixed-race orphan. Yet this bold creative move failed to convince critics and readers. For science-fiction aficionados, the novel’s depiction of a futuristic Los Angeles did not go far enough, and for those interested in a coming-of-age story of a teenage woman, Francie’s life appeared too random and without a clear-cut development.
In the Heart of the Valley of Love opens with the disappearance of the boyfriend of Francie’s aunt, who may have been taken by the police. Moving from the desolate motel site of the kidnapping to the Los Angeles of the future gives rise to Francie’s detached observations of life in a collapsing urban agglomeration. There is a larger division between rich and poor, more crime, pollution, water and fuel shortages, and strange new diseases that cause the outbreak of black pearls from under people’s skin.
Readers looking for a setting akin to Ridley Scott’s futuristic Los Angeles in the film Blade Runner(1982) were disappointed by Kadohata’s much milder, less caustic dystopia. The future of her novel read more like the slightly altered 1970’s, when Kadohata lived in Los Angeles. A car jumps the curve and mangles Francie’s right arm—this episode mirrors the traumatic event from the author’s life which ultimately motivated her to leave Los Angeles for Boston and start writing fiction after 1977.
In rather episodic form, In the Heart of the Valley of Love continues to narrate events from Francie’s life in an inhospitable city. She joins the staff of her community college newspaper and falls in love with Mark, one of her quirky colleagues there. The novel continues to describe more events from her life ranging from trying to save a colleague from an abusive boyfriend to visits to eccentric characters such as a woman who keeps Christmas decorations up throughout the year. The episodes read like pearls on a string, some critics felt, but without a strong plot.
Summary (Identities & Issues in Literature)
In the Heart of the Valley of Love is a futuristic novel depicting life in Los Angeles in the 2050’s. Narrated by Francie, who comes to stay with her aunt in Los Angeles after she loses her African American father and Japanese mother to cancer, the novel portrays the decline of the once-prosperous city.
The picture that Francie draws of Los Angeles in the 2050’s is clearly based on the demographical changes in California and the widening chasm between the rich and the poor in the 1990’s. Kadohata envisions a bleak city where the nonwhites and poor whites make up 64 percent of the population and where extreme pollution causes unusual and unheard-of diseases. Shortages of all essential commodities have led to rationing of water and gas; corruption and lawlessness among officials is widespread. The city is clearly divided into the areas of haves and have-nots, and rioting by unhappy citizens is commonplace.
It is no surprise then that this city of despair is inhabited by “expressionless people.” Young people lead undisciplined lives in the absence of responsible adults in their lives. They tatoo their faces and their bodies—a way of “obliterating themselves,” according to the narrator.
Francie, too, is affected by the times. Her adoptive family is disintegrated after Rohn, her aunt’s boyfriend, disappears. It is suspected that he has been arrested by the authorities. As her aunt risks her life and devotes all her time to tracing him, Francie drifts, like her young peers. She joins a community college where there are several other men and women in their twenties and thirties keeping themselves occupied in aimless activities. Eventually, she overcomes her cynical approach to love and life in general, for amid the ruins she sees signs of renewal of the land.
Francie observes at the end of the novel: “I didn’t know whether, a hundred years from now, this would be called The Dark Century or The Century of Light. Though others had already declared it the former, I hoped it would turn out to be the latter.” Her comment does little to diminish the chilling picture of a possible future for Los Angeles.
Summary (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
In the Heart of the Valley of Love is set in a future Southern California of the mid-twenty-first century. It centers on the experiences of Francie, a young Japanese American girl of that time, and her family and friends. The story is told in the first person and is divided into sixteen short chapters.
In the Heart of the Valley of Love begins with the narrator and protagonist, Francie, driving through the Mojave Desert in the company of her Auntie Annie, who has taken care of her since the death of her parents. With them is Annie’s boyfriend, Rohn. On their way to the desert, they had been stopped by a highway patrolman, but Rohn had bribed the officer to let them go. Despite this incident, the three people in the car are having a good time as they speed eastward. In the scarcity of this projected twenty-first century, such necessities of life as water are jealously hoarded and dearly priced. When Rohn is offered an opportunity by an enigmatic man named Max the Magician to buy some water, he agrees with alacrity. The entire water purchase, though, is a trick played by the authorities, with Max as either tool or dupe. Rohn is arrested and carted off to an unknown locale. Even though Auntie Annie is far senior to her in years, Francie feels a responsibility to take care of her aunt in the wake of Rohn’s disappearance. Having weathered many travails during her life, Francie sees herself as supremely adaptable.
Francie reflects on the death of her parents. They had known that they were dying and had been understandably bitter. This bitterness, however, was laced with bursts of sincere optimism. The memory of her parents’ courage lends Francie the strength to persevere even after the upsetting episode of Rohn’s kidnapping.
Francie enrolls in a local two-year college that serves primarily the underprivileged classes. Here, she develops a circle of friends for the first time since she had moved to California from Chicago in her early teenage...
(The entire section is 815 words.)