When a young man is released from a psychiatric ward, he must find his way in the world with nothing but a borrowed suit and a suitcase of cigarettes in Brian Martell’s Valley of Fools.
Emerson is 16 when he’s “institutionalized” in the juvenile system for nearly killing his next-door neighbor for setting Emerson’s uncle’s cat on fire. But instead of being released at 18, he’s sent to a psychiatric hospital. Now Emerson, who has become a “fortress of resolve” in his refusal to cooperate in his therapy, learns he was free to leave six years earlier.
Rather than accepting the home’s offer of time to prepare for his release along with the money and lodging that goes with it, Emerson immediately walks out into the rain. He soon finds a shelter of sorts with several transients, including Franklin, who lives with his dogs in the sewer tunnel; the one-eyed Caeser, a “Pigeon Master” who scales the bridge to steal pigeon eggs from the nest; Charles, a writer who lives in a boxcar; and Joe, a philosophizing thief. When the mayor seizes on the group for a campaign opportunity, it sparks a series of life-changing events.
With vividly drawn, free-spirited characters reminiscent of John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, this novel tempers the harsh environment of the homeless with light introspection and humor. The writing is so rich in detail and color, you can almost feel the fleas biting Emerson. “You get used to them after awhile,” Emerson tells Joe while scratching at an insect. “Hell, that ain’t the point,” Joe responds. “A man can get used to anything, if that’s his philosophy…I don’t want to get used to them dammit. I’ve got my principles.”
Writing errors, including typos and occasional missing punctuation, and formatting issues— changing fonts and broken lines—can be disruptive.
Nonetheless, this is an entertaining read with endearing characters and an engaging style that will appeal to a wide range of readers.
Also available as an ebook.