cover image Child in the Valley

Child in the Valley

Gordy Sauer. Hub City, $26 (286p) ISBN 978-1-938235-79-5

Sauer debuts with a riveting cautionary tale of greed set during the California gold rush. A baby boy is orphaned at birth in 1832 St. Louis, then adopted by the doctor who delivered him, Dr. Gaines, and named Joshua. As Joshua grows, his adopted father trains him in the medical arts, and then, in 1849, after Gaines dies and his house is sold to pay off debt, Joshua leaves St. Louis, hoping to gain a spot as a doctor on an expedition to Sacramento Valley, where he plans to strike it rich and erase the memory of Gaines’s financial failures. He is invited to join the mysterious Renard and his traveling companions: Englishman G. Quillard, the formerly enslaved Free Ray, and twins Clayton and Klayton. As the motley gang of forty-niners reach their destination, they abandon all pretense of humanity and begin to steal from and kill others in their single-minded pursuit of gold. Caught in this nightmare, Joshua examines his own descent into depravity and aims to redeem himself. While the prose’s biblical intonations can feel a bit mannered, Sauer’s imagistic style credibly affects an apocalyptic tone while describing the desolate landscape. This is an accomplished literary western. Agent: Kirby Kim, Janklow & Nesbit Assoc. (Aug.)