Peace in the Valley
My brother, Bob, who went by the pen name “Raymond Refoen,” passed away at the relatively young age of 59 on October 17, 2006. My sister and I handled most of the final arrangements as well as looked after some of his remaining earthly goods. One of the items he left behind was a box full of this-and-that…paperweights, scissors, pens, papers, and some old VCR tapes…the typical accessories of everyone’s life. I looked through the box to check out the tapes and found that they were the full series of Ken Burns’ “Civil War” documentary. Hummm…interesting. I might want to re-watch this series someday. I closed the box and didn’t think much about it for a few years.
Later, I got on a “Civil War kick” and decided to dig out those tapes for a look. Well, I never did get around to watching those tapes… What I found when sifting through the papers was about eight or ten short stories, a fully completed book manuscript, and just a few pages which started a second book manuscript! I read through the short stories and thought most of them were pretty good. I had been kicking around the idea of publishing an anthology of my own papers and articles, which had been written over a long span of years. I thought it might be neat to combine the two sets of works, arranging them around the theme of two boys writing about their activities and dreams while growing up. This eventually became “Tales of the Midwest: Growing Up and Growing Old in Rural Small-town, U.S.A.”
Then I got to the manuscript entitled “Peace in the Valley,” and read it. Wow! It was rough and somewhat crude, but it was really good! I decided that after I finished my current project, “Cable of Fate,” I’d tackle re-writing “Peace in the Valley.” Perhaps I could smooth and hone it, and make it more acceptable to a mass market. This project became kind of a family affair – my brother Bob wrote the original manuscript, my sister and great-nephew worked as sounding-boards, editors, and composition experts, and my cousin served as historical reader and fact-checker. Out of all this came “Peace in the Valley: A Quest for Redemption in the Old West,” which I think is a really outstanding story…but then again…maybe I’m a little biased!
John’s post-publication note on “Peace in the Valley.”
“Peace in the Valley” is a multi-layered novel that entertains and informs on at least four levels.
On the most obvious level, it is a simple love story between a man and a woman, set in the 1800s. A story of love conquering all the complexities of two people from different backgrounds who determine to make a life together, much as the vast majority of us have experienced.
On the next level, it is a bird’s eye view of the some of the events of history from late 1863 to early 1877 – from the Civil War’s Battle of Lookout Mountain to the later struggles of The Great Sioux War. It is told through the voice of “Eleanor Cress,” a quite elderly late-20th Century Native American Rights protestor. Eleanor relates events which took place in the 19th Century from the viewpoint of her grandfather, “Mark Gamble.” Eleanor and Mark serve the same function in “Peace in the Valley” that the character “Jack Crabb” provided in the movie “Little Big Man” and “Nick Carraway” provided in “The Great Gatsby.” This device provides a great perspective for getting the larger events of history into the novel, which was important for both Bob and me.
“Peeling the onion” further, “Peace in the Valley” provides a view and many significant details of life, and especially farm life, in the mid-Nineteenth Century. I think Bob shared my concern that some of these details might be lost to perpetuity if they were not carefully recorded for future generations. I feel the book does a very good job of capturing the feel and struggle of life in the 1800s.
Finally on the deepest level, the book provides the powerful message that no one is beyond God’s grace for redemption and salvation. I hope my Christian friends are not too shocked at some of the content of “Peace in the Valley.” The underlying theme of the book is that everyone is capable of being saved by God’s grace, even the vilest of sinners. The book would not have been effective in illustrating this truth if the main characters were saints before finding redemption. Instead, the two main male characters are products of the frontier, who have previously and continue to sin in various ways: they kill, and at times even enjoy it; they have been guilty of fornication; they fight, lose their tempers, and scream vile oaths, after which they experience deep remorse; they get exasperated with their wives; they have trouble refraining from casting lustful eyes at other women – in short, they are human. This behavior is contrasted with the pure life that the main female character attempts to live, even in her imperfect state and her struggle with the quietly insidious attitudes with which she must contend in this lower realm.
And yet none of the characters are beyond the redemption granted through God’s all-powerful and all-encompassing grace. It is an important lesson for all of us living in the Twenty-first Century. To drive it home, Bob felt (and I concurred) that it took the drawing of the stark contrast of the depths to which humans can sink without God, compared with the beauty of the redemption which only God can provide, to illustrate this lesson.