cover image Carson Valley

Carson Valley

Bill Barich. Pantheon Books, $25 (352pp) ISBN 978-0-679-44210-3

The cyclical drama of Northern California's grape harvest is a backdrop for romantic reawakenings in this evocative tale set in Sonoma County's Carson Valley. Crusty 79-year-old Victor Torelli has spent his life farming acreage that has been in his family for over 100 years, but his attachment to the land is weakening as his wife, Claire, battles cancer. Victor has hired a vineyard manager, Arthur Atwater, to bring in his grapes. When Victor's daughter, Anna, returns from Manhattan to help care for her mother, she and Atwater embark on a passionate yet wary love affairDeach taking care not to reopen the wounds of past romantic failures. Barich (Laughing in the Hills; Travelling Light) marvelously captures the elemental life of the vineyard, the experiences of migrant workers and the responsibilities of Atwater. Just as pastry shops and boutiques with names like ""Wine Country Woman"" are invading the once rough farm country, an onslaught of high-tech approaches to wine-making threatens traditional methods. The romance at the center of the novel is tepid and predictable; Anna and Atwater's soul-searching and handwringing seem downright silly alongside the wonderfully depicted natural world. But that's sort of the point, as Barich sets every human endeavor, all emotion and loving and fear, against the implacable rhythms of the soil. There is wisdom embodied in old man Torelli, who has seen so much change in his life, and Barich renders it delightful. Author tour. (Mar.)