The Valley Summary

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

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This collection of sketches about Rolando Hinojosa’s fictional Belken County, situated just north of the Mexican border in Texas, was Hinojosa’s first major publication. Originally, it was rendered in Spanish with English translations by Gustávo Valadéz and José Reyna under the title Estampas del valle y otras obras/Sketches of the Valley and Other Works. Hinojosa himself translated it under the present title in 1983, adding some material and a set of photographs from his family album. The collection constitutes a novel by some definitions of the term, but it also is the first major segment of Hinojosa’s evolving multivolume “Klail City Death Trip” series. Hinojosa focuses on the area around his birthplace, Mercedes, Texas (Klail City in his series). In these sketches, he attempts to capture the ambience of the area and its people.

The Valley lacks the real plot, the dramatic climax, the carefully planned denouement, and the clearly identifiable protagonist found in conventional novels. Nevertheless, it contains pervasive characters, including the frequent narrator, Rafa Buenrostro, the biographical details of whose life closely approximate Hinojosa’s. It also presents Jehú Malacra, seen through many eyes at various stages of his development. The last pages of the book, “A Life of Rafa Buenrostro,” focus on Rafa.

Three early sketches—a total of twenty-three printed lines—focus on Rafa’s early school experience and evoke the sense of separation Mexican American children feel from their Anglo classmates and teachers. The three paragraphs that constitute these sketches are not directly related to one another. Rather, each provides a snapshot of something connected with that early school experience: the teacher, Miss Moy, is described in five lines; a Hispanic girl lies about what she had for breakfast to make herself seem more like her Anglo classmates (eight lines); Rafa punches Hilario Berrago in the mouth during recess (ten lines).

From these school sketches, Hinojosa moves directly to a short vignette about a man from the water company coming to shut off the Ponce family’s water supply because they have not paid their bill. The next sketch moves to a neighboring town, Flora, and has no direct connection with what has preceded it.

A six-line sketch follows telling about how in Edgerton the narrator’s father had once fired three shots at a man who was trying to knife him. As these sketches unfold, readers, probably at first bewildered at encountering unfamiliar characters in unfamiliar towns, begin to develop a sense of the region about which Hinojosa is writing. The individual sketches may lack plot, yet from them emerge details useful elsewhere throughout this book and the others of the “Klail City Death Trip” series.

One sustained narrative among the sketches focuses on Baldemar (Balde) Cordero’s fatal stabbing of Ernesto Tamez in a barroom brawl. Balde’s friend, Gilberto (Beto) Castañeda, is married to Balde’s sister, Marta. They all live together in Klail City. Beto, witness to the stabbing, gives a deposition recounting what happened. Through it, readers learn the backgrounds of Balde and Beto and of other characters they have previously encountered in the book. A sketch of Beto Castañeda follows.

Some characters in this collection emerge more fully developed in subsequent volumes of the series. Jehú Malacra is a typical example. In this book, readers first meet Jehú’s grandfather, an unnamed narrator, and his long-dead great-grandfather, Braulio Tapia. Jehú’s father, Roque Malacra, visits the narrator, a widower, requesting his daughter Tere Noriega’s hand in marriage.

In fewer than twenty lines, the narrator consents to this request and reflects upon his having visited Braulio Tapia many years before seeking permission to marry Braulio’s daughter Matilde, Tere’s mother. He also recalls that Braulio’s wife, doña Sóstenes, was dead when he approached his prospective...

(The entire section is 1,124 words.)