cover image California Time

California Time

Ernest J. Finney, Author University of Nevada Press $24 (229p) ISBN 978-0-87417-311-6

Vestiges of East of Eden and A Farewell to Arms haunt this earthy chronicle about ethnic synergies in California's Great Central Valley during the 1920s, '30s and '40s. Through the first-person narratives of Patrick Hart, the hotel manager in a dusty farming town in California's Great Central Valley, and the children of three families--Japanese, Italian and Portuguese--working neighboring farms, Finney shows us the dreams of these first-generation Americans as they grow to adulthood in a fertile but often unforgiving land. The Japanese siblings endure the hardship of a Depression childhood only to find themselves banished to a relocation camp after the attack on Pearl Harbor. At the same time, their Italian neighbor makes a ""separate peace"" when he is sent back into battle (after winning a medal in the Pacific) on the Italian front, while the teenage daughter of a Portuguese dairyman and her Okie friend are left behind to protect their neighbors' fields from opportunistic real estate sharks. This poignant picture of the American system at its best (the WPA) and very worst (the relocation camps) is the work of a fine, if sentimental, storyteller. While Finney seems to divine the underlying sense of heroism and to understand the quiet drama in the workaday lives of his characters, the first-person narration is curiously more expository than personal, and Finney never quite brings his novel to life. (Mar.) FYI: The ethnic range of faces in an old school photo he found in a secondhand store inspired Finney's cast of characters.