This June, during my plane-ride perusal of the glossy magazines I had chosen to accompany me on my journey across the Atlantic, I skipped directly to the tiny book recommendation blurbs of each magazine to find that nearly all of them wrote effusively about Laura Dave’s novel Eight Hundred Grapes. The book is about Georgia Ford, a girl who, rattled in the wake of the discovery that their fiancé has a shocking secret, leaves Los Angeles for her family vineyard in Sonoma to regroup. She arrives, ready for relaxation, and is rocked by the revelation that the home front is just as rocky as the world she left behind. The book is surprisingly poignant for an obvious beach read. The plot moves fast, with few twists not entirely predictable, but still viable. The best part: I was actually both surprised and satisfied with the ending. For me, that’s a rarity.
Imagine my surprise when, on my daily [don’t judge me] visit to Barnes & Noble, I saw a book called Valley Fever. Like Eight Hundred Grapes, the jacket had grapes on it, though this one was a close-up photograph where Eight Hundred Grapes featured a small illustration. I picked up the book to read the blurb and almost did a double take. The story was about Ingrid, a girl who, in the wake of a breakup, flees Los Angeles for her family vineyard in Fresno to recover. Sound familiar? I had to read it for comparison’s sake.
Valley Fever and Eight Hundred Grapes had some obvious similarities; plots peppered with wisdom on wine-growing, hardworking, honest farmer fathers who inevitably both fell ill. There was even a moment in each book about eating the crispy parts of lasagna [are people in California obsessed with lasagna? Inquiring Northeasterners want to know]. Beyond that, the books had entirely different purposes. Eight Hundred Grapes was certainly more of a commercial success, with higher ratings on Amazon and Goodreads. Valley Fever did not bode as well in the mainstream, but I personally preferred it. It’s an easy read, but it’s not a beach read. It’s sad and real and the plot flows like real life instead of a carefully orchestrated tale. Bad things happen that don’t get resolved. Nice people get screwed over. The protagonist doesn’t rise from the ashes and conquer the world as a statement on strength in the face of adversity. She struggles to stay afloat until she forces herself to move forward, just like most real people would. The book is upsetting at the end, though not in the way you’d expect it to be. You may not love it, but you’ll certainly spend time thinking about it, and in the end, those are the books that matter.