In the Heart of the Valley of Love Summary
Cynthia Kadohata's In the Heart of the Valley of Love (published in 1997) is a quasi science-fiction novel that is set in Los Angeles in the year 2052. The novel follows the protagonist, Japanese-African American Francie, an orphan whose parents have died of cancer when she was thirteen. She suspects they were exposed to some chemical, but she nevertheless considers herself lucky to be taken care of and employed by her Aunt.
Francie is raised by her aunt, Annie, whose rather unsavory boyfriend, Rohn, smuggles electronics on the black market. At the novel's outset the group is traveling through the Mojave Desert, where they are stopped but let go when Rohn bribes the policeman. Rohn is later trapped by the authorities and taken away. Francie and her aunt continue to live at a motel, for which her aunt makes deliveries. The Los Angeles described in the novel features a shortage of gas, food, and water, which are rationed to the (overwhelmingly poor) population.
Following Rohn's arrest, Francie is then enrolled in a community college, where she meets Mark, who becomes her boyfriend, and Jewel, who is dating a man who abuses her. Mark is a good partner for the well-intentioned but aimless Francie. They get tattoos together to affirm their commitment to iconoclasm. Soon, a student from their school, Matt Burroughs, is accused of murder and Mark and Francie seek to defend him; however, it turns out that Matt is most likely guilty, as he disappears.
The group makes a sort of pilgrimage to a spot known to Jewel's father and grandfather, where they find a box that reveals the name of her father's secret mistress. Mark, France, and Jewel put their names and the names of those close to them in the box, as a means of perpetuating the time capsule and giving themselves a permanent, if artificial, place in such a vast city.
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...
(The entire section is 1,858 words.)