Valley of the Moon by Melanie Gideon

By Ekta R. Garg

August 24, 2016

Genre: Women’s fiction

Rated: Bordering on Bypass it / 2.5 stars

A single mother discovers a gateway that allows her to time travel to the past. As she deals with the effects of multiple visits, she encounters turning points and must decide where she will live the rest of her life. Author Melanie Gideon oversimplifies the concept of time travel in the somewhat sweet but ultimately frustrating novel Valley of the Moon.

In the summer of 1975 in San Francisco, single mom Lux Lysander is juggling all the elements of her life: her son, Bennett, whom she calls Benno; her strained relationship with her father; and her waitressing job where she’s always late. With Benno leaving to visit Lux’s parents in Rhode Island, for the first time since his birth Lux will be alone and she’s equally relieved and wistful.

She goes on a week-long solo camping trip to Sonoma, also known as the Valley of the Moon. In the middle of her first night away, Lux wakes up to a mysterious fog that has enveloped her campsite. She sees a light in the distance and follows it to a community of cabins.

The people in the cabins aren’t campers like her, however. They share with Lux an incredible story: their farm community, called Greengage, is in a past time. On this side of the fog it’s April 1906, and an earthquake has struck the Valley of the Moon. Since the earthquake, the fog has trapped the almost 300 residents of Greengage on the farm. No one can cross the fog without dying.

The leader of the community, Joseph Bell, approaches Lux with wariness. Soon, though, he comes to understand she really from 1975. Lux, too, accepts the reality of her situation and spends time in Greengage. She’s drawn to the simplicity it offers, the harmonious way of life, and she finds herself torn between staying in 1906 and going back to 1975.

If it weren’t for Benno, the decision would be easy; reluctantly Lux goes back to her own time period. She promises Joseph she’ll return, and she does, many times. She begins building friendships with the farm dwellers, so much so that when a crisis occurs during one visit she loses track of time and overstays. When Lux comes back to her own world, she returns to a crisis of her own. She must deal with the consequences as well as with her yearning for Greengage as she moves forward in her own time.

Author Melanie Gideon offers readers the romance of time travel without dealing with its complexities. As a result, the story comes across as simplistic to the extreme. The charm of the fog as Lux’s method of travel wears off much too quickly. Lux travels to and from 1906 with minimal issues, including taking objects from her time period back to the past with absolutely no after effects. She doesn’t experience any physical challenges due to time travel, leaving it as simply a method for her to explore her personal potential and to meet people who bolster her confidence in herself.

The book alternates between Lux and Joseph’s points of view, but the speech patterns don’t change. Joseph and Lux both speak with the same syntax and in the same vernacular, and Gideon loses a prime opportunity to raise her book above average. Instead it becomes clear fairly soon that Gideon’s less interested in historical accuracy and more interested in moving her story forward.

Gideon does gain some momentum on Lux as a character. By herself, Lux is flawed and interesting. She deals with problems in a way many of us would, which means it’s not always a pretty picture, and readers may have appreciated a story about just her.

Her interactions with Joseph, while filled with honesty at first, soon become repetitive. Again, Joseph as a standalone character would have been fine. Because the story demands more of Lux and Joseph together, however, everyone important in Greengage and San Francisco gets relegated to the background. The book quickly transforms into a romance with time travel as an excuse, and the familiar pop culture references to the 1970s just aren’t enough to keep readers going through the book.

Valley of the Moon Borders on Bypassing it.