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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Souvenir: Phil and "Val/Orson"

My kind friend Philip Lee Williams, novelist and memoir writer and poet, is retiring from the little world of blogging. Now I snitch a souvenir before his blog trembles and wavers and vanishes into the aether. This is a post he wrote about Val/Orson, and I--naturally!--value his words. Tinged by friendship, they are generous and sweet.

You can tell the end is a bit dated because I have not been blogging at the pace he describes for a long time! The blog must now compete with the jollity and friends of facebook, and that is a trial for the poor thing. But there are always pieces that fit better here, and this is one of them--I fold it into the imaginary pages of my blog like a flower for safe keeping.

* * *

Marly's masterpiece

One of my best writer friends is a brilliant woman named Marly Youmans who lives with her family in Cooperstown, NY. Marly has published a number of first-rate books, including Catherwood, Little Jordan, The Curse of the Raven Mocker, and the winner of the Michael Shaara Prize, The Wolf Pit. She also wrote a ravishing collection of poetry published by LSU and has more magnificent work marinating and waiting its turn for publication. Now Marly had published, in two stunning limited editions from Britain's PS press, a simple, beautiful, even brilliant book calledVal/Orson. Here is the synopsis of this incredible story:

Inspired by the French medieval tale Valentine and Orson, this moving, insightful novella from award-winning author Marly Youmans reclaims a 500-year-old epic for contemporary readers.

Through the dazzling double-story of a stolen twin and the secrets of an ancient forest, Youmans roams also among the sweet spirits of Shakespeare’s romance plays.

Val/Orson opens with Val long saddened at the loss of his stolen twin brother. He has grown up in theCalifornia forest, climbing mysterious redwoods and finding his greatest pleasure in a landscape that seems alive. And sorrow for his lost sibling—his double—haunts his walks.

From boyhood, he has worked with all his intelligence and strength to save the ancient trees. Now Val's world is increasingly populated by environmentalists, sometimes dangerously radical, sometimes merely idealistic, and further shaded in connection with the disappearance of a particularly bewitching tree-sitter--a woman who has both captivated and confused him.

“I fear seeing a luminous being crouched by the hearth, ready to swing its intense light-drenched gaze toward me. I fear that I’ll never grasp the terms of my own damnation or what happened to the woman I knew only by the name of Diamond . . .”

Did she die in her wanderings? Is she still in the deep forest with her lover, mocking Val? As he searches for his lost twin, he must find out.

The sequoia groves are the stage where a company of figures worthy of a Renaissance “winter’s tale” (Fergus, the Sherwood band of tree-sitters, grief-shaded Bella with her wild inheritance, Clere, and mysterious others who seem close by, half-hidden in trees) engage, entertain, and challenge Val.

As their stories mesh and unwind, they lure Val deeper into the rich complexity of their narratives and toward revelation. And as the mystery in Marly Youmans’ magical world intensifies, Val moves from revelation to a stunning transformation as son, brother, lover, and steward of the wildwood.

Critical response from fine writers has been rapturous. Writer Theodora Goss said this:

"What a gorgeous tale! I'm always delighted to read a new work by Marly Youmans, and Val/Orson both enchants and satisfies: it is a combination of myth, Shakespeare, and modern environmentalism, with not a little magic thrown into the mixture, written in prose as lush as it is precise. A treat for anyone who loves fantasy or just a tale well told."

I love limited editions, and this one came in two forms and mine was the hardcover one, signed by Marly and the writer of the book's introduction Catherynne M. Valente. In an edition of 100, I got number 87. PS also published an edition of 500 in softcover signed by Marly. Check it out online at Amazon or B&

Marly and I were supposed to be on a panel together at the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville in 2001, and I hurt my back and couldn't go. And yet we instantly became pen pals and dear friends, and we have written each other for the past eight years--finally meeting this spring for the first time.

I can't begin to tell you what a glory
Val/Orson is. No one writes like Marly--she is one of those people who seem incapable of anything meretricious and whose every word seems born for its spot on the page.

I hope my readers will check out her
oeuvre and especially go to her website, She has a blog that puts mine to shame--with a huge and lively following. Brava, Marly. And thank you for this incandescent tale--one that will stay with me for the rest of my days.

P.S. Check out Marly's ordering advice in the comments section!


  1. A keeper for sure, of the sort I can only dream of. You have earned every word.

  2. Robinka,
    That is sweet! Thanks.

    It wouldn't be so lovely if not for the smashing image by CHJ...


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.