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Formats
Paperback Book Details
  • 10/2022
  • 9798986744544 B0B9LPBBW1
  • 414 pages
  • $19.95
Benjamin Harnett
Author, Illustrator
The Happy Valley

Adult; General Fiction (including literary and historical); (Market)

In the early 1990s in Harmony Valley, a rural, Upstate New York village faded from its 18th and 19th century heyday, a group of teens engaged in an idiosyncratic role-playing game cross paths with June, a mysterious girl whose family has deep roots in the area, and Clyde Duane, a janitor who makes weekly visits to a strange room-the headquarters of a secret society-opening its door with a golden, serpent-headed key. Meanwhile an eccentric Utica lawyer pulls his young Vietnamese protégée into their firm's special case, which stretches back to the 1840s.

Decades later, in 2034, as the United States is breaking apart and a new way of life taking shape, June has disappeared. The mystery of her disappearance inspires a journey back to "The Happy Valley," and a reevaluation of the past that exposes the dark personal and societal secrets betraying our founding myths.

This atmospheric mystery, at turns gothic, poetic, cerebral, and funny, ranges from rural New York to the outer reaches of the Zebulon Galaxy; from the 1700s to the 4th decade of the 21st century.
 

Reviews
This kaleidoscopic voyage through time, space, and a litany of lives and puzzles from Harnett, the poet and short story writer, opens with two children in upstate New York playing at solving the mystery of a serpent-shaped key that opens the “strange top-floor apartment” with the “dragon-scale windows.” The narrative hurtles forward into their future and ours. In the 2030s, the children have grown up, and the mystery abounds, but with new elements, among them the surprise success of a workers’ anarchist movement called the “blue smocks,” whose aims one character describes as “What if the French Revolution, but good?” The U.S. is upended by irreversible changes and climate catastrophes, and, amid it all, one of the children from the opening has disappeared. The pressing question, as Harnett’s surprising, genre-bending story stretches into the past as well: does all of this connect to that key and a secret society?

The sprawling novel touches on places and topics as familiar as a PB&J-on-Wonder Bread American childhood to as far flung as the outer space adventures of Zane Arbuster, and a near-future, post-revolutionary society where the decentralized blue smock government—ascribed as free or fascist depending on perspective—faces cyber crime and attacks “financed by the richest, most ‘enlightened’ barons, titans of progressive philanthropy who all felt that this movement of the working class had gone much too far.”

Harnett deftly sets mood and scenes, the storytelling touched with inventive beauty, sharp insights, curiosities and unsettling mysteries, a strong sense of the evolution of politics and culture—and the way people talk about it all. That said, the narrative takes on a lot, challenging readers to keep up with leaps from one place, time, and theme to another. The Happy Valley demands and rewards the committed reader. But overall, Harnett’s writing is agile and will please lovers of bold, incisive fiction that radiates a love of play even as it faces societal collapse.

Takeaway: A visionary, marvelously written novel of secret societies, revolution, a near-future America, and much more.

Great for fans of: Matt Ruff’s Sewer, Gas & Electric, Samuel R. Delany.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A-

Indie Reader

Searching for his lost first love in a post-apocalyptic America, a middle-aged man pieces together the fragments of history in THE HAPPY VALLEY.

Benjamin Harnett’s trippy, ambitious debut novel, THE HAPPY VALLEY, begins with the familiar notes of a nostalgic coming-of-age story. Its unnamed, middle-aged narrator looks back on his childhood in an idyllic small town—famous for having been visited by President Millard Fillmore—in Upstate New York in the 1990s, and his friendship with a girl, June, who becomes his first love and lifelong preoccupation. June becomes part of the narrator’s circle of friends, joining them in sessions of “The Game,” a fantasy role-playing game that began as Dungeons & Dragons but which the kids have reconstructed into their own unique creation. For a time, the story ambles nimbly through time-honored elements of childhood adventure fiction—the narrator’s burgeoning devotion to June amid pinpricks of romantic jealousy; their investigation of a mysterious janitor, Clyde Duane, and his involvement with a secret society. Soon, however, the novel pulls back to reveal a more expansive, infinitely stranger canvas, vaulting from the past to a wild, surreal future in which a post-apocalyptic America is beginning to piece itself back together in the wake of catastrophic upheaval. June has disappeared from the narrator’s life, leaving him to sift through fragments of past and present in his attempt to uncover the truth.

Harnett’s tale is steeped in fond remembrance of childhood games, and reading THE HAPPY VALLEY is not unlike the experience of opening a D&D game box. In a charming—and unabashedly self-indulgent—bit of metafictional world-building rarely attempted outside of fantasy adventure series, the novel includes a map of the Harmony Valley area, children’s book-style illustrations, and an appendix featuring a historical timeline, a reading group guide with discussion prompts (“Does this novel have a central message about the way we order our life?”), and even a Spotify playlist with songs evoking the feel of the story. These playful, mischievous notes reflect how the novel itself cuts the aching solemnity of its melancholic atmosphere with childlike naiveté, wry self-awareness, and a refusal to take itself too seriously.

Dense with historical and cultural references and perceptive insights into human nature on both an individual and societal scale, Benjamin Harnett’s THE HAPPY VALLEY is a poetic, delightfully inventive work of modern mythmaking.

~Edward Sung for IndieReader

Formats
Paperback Book Details
  • 10/2022
  • 9798986744544 B0B9LPBBW1
  • 414 pages
  • $19.95

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