Valley Fever

Valley Fever

by Katherine Taylor

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A razor-sharp, cross-generational tragicomedy set in California's wine-soaked Central Valley.
Ingrid Palamede never returns to places she's lived in the past. For her, "whole neighborhoods, whole cities, can be ruined by the reasons you left." But when a breakup leaves her heartbroken and homeless, she's forced to return to her childhood home of Fresno, California. Back in the real wine country, where grapes are grown for mass producers like Gallo and Kendall-Jackson, Ingrid must confront her aging parents and their financial woes, soured friendships, and blissfully bad decisions. But along the way, she rediscovers her love for the land, her talent for harvesting grapes, and a deep fondness and forgiveness for the very first place she ever left.
With all the sharp-tongued wit of her first novel, Rules for Saying Goodbye, Katherine Taylor examines high-class, small-town life among the grapes—on the vine or soaked in vodka—in Valley Fever, a blisteringly funny, ferociously intelligent, and deeply moving novel of self-discovery.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780374713812
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 06/09/2015
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 304
File size: 368 KB

About the Author

Katherine Taylor is the author of Rules for Saying Goodbye. She lives in Los Angeles.
KATHERINE TAYLOR is the author of Rules for Saying Goodbye and Valley Fever. She has won a Pushcart Prize, and her work has appeared in such journals as Ploughshares. She now lives in Los Angeles.

Read an Excerpt

Valley Fever

By Katherine Taylor

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 2015 Katherine Taylor
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-374-71381-2


I don't return to places I've lived. I avoid my high school dorm by not going back to all of Massachusetts. In London, I'll avoid Holland Park so as not to be reminded of the basement flat on Addison Road. The furnished two-bedroom on Via Annia in Rome, the bright studio in the white brick building on West Eighty-fourth Street with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, the two-bedroom in Prenzlauer Berg I shared with a publishing-heiress insomniac who would speak only Russian: some of those places were good for a while. Still, whole neighborhoods, whole cities, can be ruined by the reasons you left.

"This entire thing has gone off the rails."

"Come home," Anne said.

"Home where?"

"At least you don't have a dog."

"Annie, I could kill you with a fucking pencil."

"Stop swearing," she said. Then she said, "I have soft-shell crabs."

I have made so many calls from airports, and so many times I have been crying. Here's what I like about airports: no one's surprised to see you cry. In airports and closets and hospitals, cry as much as you like.

"Well, I have lots of wine. Let's drink our way through Charlie's wine cellar, okay?"

"I don't have anywhere to go."

"Charlie wants you to come over here and drink your way through his wine cellar."

"Did you ask him that?"

"Charlie, do you want Ingrid to come over and drink her way through your cellar?"

"I'm taking a different flight."

"He does."

"It's going to be late."

Something else I like about airports is that you have no choice but to eat french fries and peanut M&M's. At the airport in Denver toward the end of the small C concourse, there's a mom-and-pop greasy spoon where you can get grilled cheeses cooked in shortening.

I said to the employee behind the airline counter in the lounge, "He says he doesn't love me as much as he thought he did."

Her name was Gloria and she had enormously coiffed blond hair and coral-pink lipstick that bled into the tiny lines around her mouth. "You're very brave," she said as she changed my ticket. Crying will get your ticket changed without a fee. "I was married for twelve years to a man who didn't love me."

On the flight from Denver to Los Angeles, I drank four glasses of wine. Gloria had upgraded my ticket to business.

It was not the first time Anne had rescued me heartbroken from an airport, or restaurant, or apartment, or football game, but it was the first time I really had no place at all to go. Ten months earlier, I had quit my job as a personal assistant to an aging news anchor and moved from New York to live with Howard in Los Angeles. Then, now, on the forty-five-minute flight from Aspen to Denver, Howard had told me, "This isn't what I thought I wanted."

"What did you think you wanted?"

"I thought I wanted you," he said.

We had spent an awful week with his awful father, a blank and stupid congressman from Nebraska who never, in two years, had spoken to me directly. On the way to the Aspen airport, we had stopped for bacon sandwiches at Jerry's. Howard was always introducing me to things I never would have considered, like Vietnamese fish-head soup or the Jerry's bacon sandwich, with sprouts and avocados and cream cheese and sunflower seeds. He knew things like where to get the best sushi in Little Tokyo and the best barbecue in Inglewood. One of the several terrible things about that flight from DEN to LAX was the delicious bacon sandwich that wouldn't get eaten.

"What changed?" I said.

"Nothing. Nothing changed."

"Something changed your mind."

"Maybe I changed."

"Is this because I don't have a job?"

"No, Ingrid. It's not like that."

"Because I wear my sunglasses indoors."

"No, no."

"They're prescription!"

"I know, Ingrid."

"Your father hates me."

"Why do you always say that?"

I said, "How is it, then? What happened?"

Howard said, because someone had to say it, "I think I only love you when I'm drunk."

* * *

By the time I landed at LAX, my hands throbbed with anxiety, as if something in my veins was trying to push its way out.

"You look adorable," Anne said. "You always look adorable." She took the small suitcase our parents had given me when I was thirteen, when I left for school. It said IPP on it. It was a floral tapestry, now covered in grime. "For someone who's just been demolished, you look fantastic."

Her car smelled new. Her posture was straight, her hair mussed but clipped back with a tortoiseshell barrette. Anne made everything in the world seem clean and fresh and obvious.

"Aspen will be ruined for you now," Anne said.

"Ruined for you, too," I said.

"Well, we already paid for the rooms at New Year's. Has he ruined all of Colorado? Can you still fly into Denver?"

"Thank you for coming to get me," I said, flattened.

"I will always come and get you." She tugged on a clump of my hair. "I'm saving up for when you have to come and get me."

* * *

Los Angeles was dark and wet and cold as it is every June, but this June the rain relieved a thirteen-month drought.

"They'll say one hard rain makes no difference," Anne said. This was not true, we knew. Every bit of water mattered. Even the smallest rain could make or ruin you.

"It's beautiful, though, isn't it?"

The windshield wipers went back and forth like a conversation. It was late. By morning, the gutterless streets would fill and overflow and potholes the size of platters would sink into Hollywood Boulevard. Anne and Charlie had held dinner. Back at their white clapboard house with the green shutters, Anne gave me wool socks and her shearling slippers and we kept the windows open so we could hear and see and smell the rain.

"The paint is going to bubble," Charlie said.

"It will be my fault," Anne said.

"Of course it's your fault."

She said, "He'll blame me for the peeling windowsills and for everything." The windowsills were already peeling. The windowsills in Anne's house peeled perfectly, the paint coming off in full strips.

Charlie fried wiggly, still-snapping soft-shell crabs in mustard and butter and we drank a bottle of malbec so rich and viscous, you couldn't see your fingers on the other side of the glass.

"Aren't you supposed to kill those first?" Anne suggested.

"I have done this before," he said, shaking the pan with the crab curling up in it. Just outside, under the eaves, Charlie had spears of sweet potatoes frying in a lobster pot over the barbecue, and he turned to check on them.

"All right, lovey. I am just trying to help." Anne's wavy hair and neat clothes and straight posture could make you hostile to her advice. "You'd think you would just want to kill it quick," she said, half to me and half to Charlie.

"You want me to cook some fritters?" I said.

She said, "We don't have any squash. Don't try to do anything tonight, Ingrid. You got off the plane drunk."

Outside the window, rain poured out of the storm drain like a faucet. We finished the first bottle of wine and opened a second.

Charlie said, "If you can't tell the difference between this and the malbec, then next time I'm going to serve you this."

I said, "I can tell the difference, Charlie."

When Anne and I were teenagers, Miguel caught us drinking Blue Nun in the vineyard. Dad was so angry, he sold Anne's car and forced us both to work in the packing shed for the rest of the summer. "This punishment is not for drinking," Dad said. "This punishment is for drinking Blue Nun." Charlie has latched on to this story and to the idea of me and Anne as drinkers of German plonk.

Anne said, "Do you want to talk about it, Inky, or do you want to talk about other things?"

"Have you spoken to Mom?" I said.

"I spoke to her, but I didn't give her any details."

"You didn't have any details to give her," Charlie said from underneath the eaves. He used long metal tongs to lift the sweet potato fries out of the pot.

"I don't want to talk about it, anyway," I said. I never give Anne any real details. Keeping secrets is not one of Anne's specialties. In fact, Anne's specialty is using your secrets against you.

"I guess we'll cancel December," Charlie said.

Anne said, "You don't have to cancel the whole month. December exists."

"We can go to Wyoming instead," I said.

Charlie said, "I put the deposit down on Aspen." He emphasized the word deposit.

He filled my plate with wilted greens and slipped a perfect crunchy crab on top, straight from the pan.

"I can't go back to Aspen," I said.

Charlie said, "You're crossing a lot of places off your list, Ingrid."

"Are you going to let him keep Aspen?" Anne said.

"We'll see how I feel in December." The soft-shell crabs were crunchy and golden and tangy with mustard, but I couldn't eat more than their crispy little claws.

"You and I could go, Anne," said Charlie.

Anne picked at her wilted greens, eating them one by one. "I don't really want to go with just you."

The rain slowed down. You could hear each separate drop hit the flat leaves of the palms. The rain, like everything, was temporary.

* * *

Anne gave me soft cotton pinstripe pajamas and a carafe with water. I opened the wide windows to let the rain splash in but the rain had stopped. There were leftover irregular drops from the rooftop. Beside the guest room I could hear Anne in the kitchen, drying the Saint-Louis and setting them back in the cupboard. Anne doesn't let anyone else wash her expensive glasses. I smelled the smoke from Charlie's weed, outside. Charlie liked to smoke and Anne didn't. I didn't either. Weed could make me suicidally depressed. Charlie used to say, "That's because you only smoke when you've been drinking." Charlie's marijuana came in a pharmaceutical bottle. It was an anti-anxiety prescription. One morning after dinner at Anne's and a late-night smoke with Charlie, I woke certain that if I did not immediately flush all my Lunesta and Vicodin and all my Tylenol PM down the toilet, I'd swallow pill by pill with bourbon. This is why I don't own a gun. Everyone else in my family owns a gun, including Anne. What would I do with a gun besides shoot myself?

The night birds started. I formed half the comforter into the shape of a person. Charlie tapped on his phone outside the open window. I lay there thinking and my head felt swollen and then all right and then swollen again. I tried to cry but didn't feel like crying. What a shocking day. Ten months ago I had a sunny loft on Avenue B and a job with a kind, elderly news anchor who wore bow ties and demanded very little. I had an enormous mirrored armoire with a secret compartment on the bottom and a set of white dishes and twelve matching coffee cups with delicate handles. Stupidly, I had put nothing in storage. I'd sold the armoire for three thousand dollars and given everything else to the nuns who set up apartments for homeless people. Ha.

Outside, I heard Charlie pour another bourbon into his glass. I wondered what he'd given up. I knew he'd given up paying tuition at Yale for a full ride to USC's film school. But then he had not made films, he'd become an entertainment lawyer. Charlie was the most successful compromiser I'd met in my life so far. One had to be a great compromiser to be married to Anne.

Anne had never given up anything at all. She'd won every argument and every raffle she'd ever entered. If Anne could see her losing position, she abandoned the enterprise entirely. But Anne was too lucky to fail at much. One summer during college she bought a scratch-off lottery ticket at the gas station on Blackstone and Gettysburg and won $100,000.

My head swelled and the room seemed to tilt and then I knew I was going to throw up.

* * *

In the morning, Anne and I drove down the hill to Howard's house to retrieve my things. He'd left the shades open, and I could see his coffee cup on the kitchen island before we even got out of the car. Howard never rinsed out his coffee cups. Thank goodness I would never have to rinse another of Howard's coffee cups. The house was still warm with his shower, his cologne, the smell of his dry cleaning and rosemary shampoo that already felt repellent to me.

"I hate these sofas," Anne said. Ample light came in through the south and the skylights. Anne flicked on the lights. "They really are the ugliest sofas. Why do these sofas have to be so ugly?"

"They're awful sofas."

Howard had chosen these huge sofas for watching the Saturday-afternoon Duke football to which he was devoted. They were deep and soft and feather-filled. I had, previously, appreciated these awful sofas because they were good for naps and for eating guacamole while lying down. But now Howard's love had hit its limit, and he had very bad taste in design and these brown chenille sofas.

"We both should have known a man with these sofas could not be trusted with anything of value," Anne said.

For a while in New York I had a photographer friend called Gil who, when he was seven, had found his mother in her bedroom with her face blown off and the gun still in her hand. How he had discovered his mother's suicide was one of the first things Gil would tell you about himself. It was years into our friendship that Gil told me the story of his college girlfriend, how she'd been sleeping with someone else on the men's tennis team. We were in Los Angeles on a work assignment, catching a showing of Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet, eating Milk Duds in the bright pre-movie space of the Beverly Cinema. I asked him, "Did she break your heart?"

He laughed. He shook his head and showed me his fingernails, with the yellow growth underneath them he'd had since he was eight, shortly after he'd found his mother. "My heart was already broken," he said.

When my heart is broken, like that first day of shock after Howard told me he didn't love me, I start to think about what happened with George Sweet. Through high school and college and for the year after college we lived together in New York, I had loved George plainly and completely, and he loved me back. But my mother forbade my marrying him. She feared he was lazy and she called his mother an "opportunist." She may have been right, at least about George being lazy. At any rate, I let her get right into the central artery of George and me, thinking, then, like a child does, that plain and complete love is easy to find. I always think, when I think about it, after each bad breakup, "My heart was already broken."

Anne said, "And I have always hated this house. Don't you hate this house?"

"Do you think I should take the brandy we bought in France?"

"It's a bachelor pad, Ingrid. There's a bicycle in the guest room."

"We were going to fix the guest room."

"I don't know how he thought he could live here with you. I don't know how you thought you could live here with him."

"I'm taking the brandy. It was my idea to get the brandy, anyway."

"You were the event in this relationship," she said, perched on the edge of an ottoman. "I mean, I like Howard and everything, but I sure am glad I'm on your side."

"You're my sister," I said.

"That has nothing to do with it."

"You were born on my side."

"I'll bet Howard's friends wish they were on your side."

When I bent over to put a stack of sweaters into my suitcase, I threw up the toast I had eaten for breakfast.

"We're not in a hurry," Anne said. "Let's sit." Anne made a cup of chamomile tea, but I threw that up, too. "It would be fun if we had to go to the hospital because of a broken heart," she said. "It would be dramatic."

I agreed it would be exceptional if I had to check myself into the emergency room. "I think I'm just hungover," I said.

"Keep puking," Anne said. "Then I can call Howard at work and tell him you're at the hospital."

We sat on the bathroom floor. "I might have to go to the hospital just so I have someplace to stay."

"You'll stay with me," Anne said.

"I can't stay with you indefinitely."

"Yes you can. Where else will you go?"

"I'll check myself into the hospital."

"Stay with me and Charlie."

"Too many sisters in one house."

"Two too many."

"I overwhelmed him last night."

"No, I did. Charlie, you know. Charlie has a thing."

"About too many Palamedes in one house?"

"He says we become very Central Valley when we're together."

"What's very Central Valley?"

"Don't worry about Charlie."

But I did. And Anne, them both. I worried about Anne and Charlie like I worried about my parents: always concerned that someone was about to tip something over, to break something valuable.

"I think I want to go home," I said.

"Home where?"

"Home to the farm home."

"Home to Fresno?"

"Just home to Mom and Dad for a while."

"Darling, don't do that."

"I don't know where else to keep all this stuff, and these boxes of books."

"Ingrid, just come stay with us for a while."

"I am so stupid, stupid, stupid."

"Until you figure out what to do."

"I know what I want to do."

"Just stay with us."

"Will you drive me?" Even the car I drove belonged to Howard.

* * *

Charlie opened a bottle of Far Niente and an old bottle of Mondavi, from when Robert was alive and still owned it. He wasn't joking when he said we'd drink our way through his wine cellar. Until the wine got opened, Anne and Charlie didn't speak to each other much. Opening the wine meant the start of a dinner-long truce. Anne put corn on the grill and steamed tiny white potatoes the size of marbles. She sautéed sole in butter with toasted almonds, exactly the way our mother had done it when we were little.


Excerpted from Valley Fever by Katherine Taylor. Copyright © 2015 Katherine Taylor. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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