Tenaya, the protagonist of Graphic the Valley (Tyrus, 265 pages, $24.95), was born in the back of an old Plymouth just west of the iconic El Capitan peak in Yosemite National Park. Midway through Eugene writer Peter Hoffmeister's mystical debut novel, Tenaya receives this advice from his father: "There's a voice inside your head and…you can't ignore that voice. That is the Valley." The Yosemite Valley's voice has a decidedly masculine tone, telling Tenaya to burn construction equipment and fight park rangers.
Part The Jungle Book, part The Monkey Wrench Gang, Graphic follows Tenaya's life of sleeping in caves, climbing mountains by moonlight, and killing a mountain lion with his bare hands. The book is divided into three sections—"Samson," "The Caves," and "Delilah"—and is billed as a retelling of the Bible's Samson and Delilah story, except Tenaya is an ecoterrorist and Delilah is a PR rep for a Los Angeles-based developer.
At first, Hoffmeister's outdoorsy novel seems like a collection of postcards from a Yosemite gift shop, emphasizing imagery with fragmented scenes. But each scene holds quietly disturbing imagery. Hoffmeister weaves together Tenaya's childhood with his present, and begins each chapter with stories of a native chief by the same name in the 1850s. The prose is stylishly rugged: "I looked up and saw my parents walking back toward me, the car. They were not holding hands now. Their hands were like two dried animals shrinking, skins curving and turning away from each other."
At times, Graphic's imagery comes at the expense of the narrative. In one scene, when Tenaya is mourning the death of someone close, Hoffmeister writes: "I stood on the rim, dark now to the Valley floor like a gray blanket strung in from the sun. Then the inverted dark, the snow under, white to the river, and the river black as a line of charcoal after a forest fire." It's a nice image—though a little too lofty to convey the appropriate grief.
Ultimately, though, Graphic the Valley is worth a visit. Hoffmeister names every rock and boulder in the Yosemite Valley, stitching a loose but compelling narrative along the way. It's also something of a sequel to Hoffmeister's previous book, an outdoor-themed parenting guidebook titled Let Them Be Eaten by Bears.
GO: Peter Hoffmeister will be at Powell's on Hawthorne, 3723 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 228-4651, on Thursday, Aug. 1. 7:30 pm. Free.