Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

When The Floating World was published, most of the reviews were glowing. Cynthia Kadohata’s first novel earned her comparisons to Mark Twain, Jack Kerouac, Raymond Carver, and William Faulkner. The book is autobiographical in that much of the author’s early life was spent on the road with her family in Arkansas, Georgia, and Michigan before she settled in Los Angeles at the age of fifteen. She has said that she likes to travel because it helps her see ordinary things in surprising ways, and she infuses such delight and wonder into her first novel. Her novel includes a long episode set in Arkansas about workers who sort male from female chicks, a job her real-life father held after he divorced her mother.

While traveling around the country drives the plot in her first novel, Kadohata set her second novel, In the Heart of the Valley of Love (1992), in Los Angeles in the year 2052. The second book is the story of seventeen-year-old Francie, who arrives in “the valley of love” and stays for seven years. When she is nineteen, she is pinned against a wall when a car jumps a curb, crushing her arm. Such an accident really happened to Kadohata in Los Angeles when she was twenty-one, and the event impressed on her the unpredictability of life. Kadohata says that writing about things that have happened to her blurs the distinction between what is real and what is fiction, and she calls her second novel not so much futuristic as dreamlike.