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[190] Valeria’s Last Stand – Marc Fitten

valeria ‘You should be ashamed of yourselves. All of you. You’re old enough to be in retirement homes. This is craziness. You’re worse than adolescents. What did you do?’ [98]

The quoted line summarizes my feeling toward the novel. Not that older people have no right to love, but the extent with which they have gone is overboard. The essence of the story has a lot of promise and the opening really intrigues me. Set in Zivatar, a small town in Hungary, in what appears to be the 1990s, when forces of capitalism has just touched the last reserve of Communism, the book revolves around a senior citizen love triangle. The town’s beloved widower potter, the ideal of modesty, has not only taken up with Ibolya (58 years old), the libertine and venomous tavern owner, but also falls in love with the spinster Valeria (68 years old), who was once jilted and never allows herself to enjoy life.

“Over the years, Valeria had made herself unattractive. Villagers were accustomed to seeing her grimace, seeing her sneer, and then hearing her curse before being pelted with a handful of chestnuts or whatever else she could get her hands on.” [13]

Valeria’s routine carping and her finding fault with everything—even the vegetables, unfortunately are the last of the book that intrigues me. While I enjoy the flamed exchange between the tavernista and the spinster, who vie for the exclusive affections of the potter, my attitude toward the bizarre love triangle and the sexual details it ensues is indifferent. The arrival of a scheming, opportunistic chimney sweep, who is ready to retire and takes a wife, shifts my mild intrigue to dread. I’m aware that each of the three main characters represents a power during the time of radical change, as Zivatar teeters on the brinks of new possibilities yet is hesitant to move forward. The mayor, who drives a Mercedes, while the townfolks ride their bikes, goes on vacations aboard under the pretext of negotiating business deals for the town, is hilariously corrupted. He represents the system that Valeria finds faults with, that Ibolya helplessly hates, and that the potter dodges, for he is unaware of the troubles of the village.

My problem with Valeria’s Last Stand is that characters are too etched to be read as a fable and fairy tale, yet they are not convincing enough to be taken seriously. It’s not believable. There are many perspectives from which one can portray a period of political change in a small town. But least expected is one written in the context of a sexually charged drama that features old folks. The book, however, is worth a read for good laugh.

Oh? Don’t you know anything about it? How awful for you. It seems, you little filthy man, that the potter must have awakened some kind of fire in her, and you just happened to be the first piece of meat her famished body came across. It’s funny really. A switch, actually. You were convenient.[211]

ARC. Scheduled to release May 2009
259 pp. [Read/Skim/Toss]

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19 Responses

  1. Quite frankly, this book just sounds bizarre… Or, at least, it sounds strange once you describe it with this – “too etched to be read as a fable” – well worded summary…

  2. Sounds like they live in a place north of here called “The Villages”. Nobody under the age of 65, swingers parties and gonorrhea abound. I take your review to heart…you rarely give anything the Toss!

  3. Your review was excellent and I laughed at the last quote…thanks for being honest. Actually, this book never sounded like anything that I would enjoy reading.

  4. Is the author Hungarian? Is it a book in translation? I only ask, because sometimes it’s the translation that’s at fault and not the original work.

  5. I read about this from the bookstore bulletin. This is supposed to be the first of a trilogy. Although you don’t recommend it, I find your review very funny!

  6. Biblibio:
    I wasn’t weirded out at the beginning, which describes a spinster who has chosen to be contemptuous. But from there it just spun out of control, at least for me. 🙂

  7. Sandy:
    I heard about something of like in Floria. So it really exists! I deliberated for a while whether I’ll give “Toss.” It wasn’t an easy decision.

  8. Staci:
    I would not recommend the book, but feel free to pick it up and skim.

  9. kimbofo:
    According to the blurb, the author was born and raised in New York. The family was from Panama originally. Valeria’s Last Stand is the first book of the Paprika trilogy.

  10. John:
    It’s funny but that’s about it. Farce.

  11. By the way, the book has got very good reviews in the Amazon Vine program (sort of like the Early Reviewers on LT) and Book Browse. Check them out.

  12. Too bad this book wasn’t better. I like stories set in Hungary, or by Hungarian writers, and am always on the look out for a good one. I enjoyed your review.

  13. I LOVED the book! Maybe one has to be beyond middle age to appreciate it, but I thoroughly enjoyed the humor and character interaction. I’ve shared it with some friends, who also loved it. While it isn’t for everyone, it’s a great read.

  14. […] five books (two yet to be reviewed because I’ve been on vacation in Hawaii) read this year, Valeria’s Last Stand by Mark Fitten is the single least favorite of all. My problem with Valeria’s Last Stand is that […]

  15. kimbofo-The author lived in Hungary for several years in the nineties and married a Hungarian woman.

  16. I saw this review in the LA Times today. I still have not read the book and this seems a little over-the-top, but I thought it was an interesting review. In any case, it has more quotes from the book.

    http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/arts/la-et-book16-2009may16,0,141535.story

  17. […] one that earned a rare “Toss” rating in my [Read/Skim/Toss] scale. The book is called Valeria’s Last Stand by Marc Fitten. Some of you enjoy the book, deeming it a fun comfort read. No offense to old people […]

  18. […] book (she certainly doesn’t deserve any more mention) and this absurdly annoying farce called Valeria’s Last Stand. Out of the 5 Christopher Bram books I read, Gods and Monsters really fell short—it was […]

  19. […] A Guy’s Moleskine Notebook – “My problem with Valeria’s Last Stand is that characters are too etched to be read as a fable and fairy tale, yet they are not convincing enough to be taken seriously. It’s not believable.” […]

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