It usually annoys me when authors make up bogus place names. I realize they must do this if they are taking some liberties with the characteristics of a real place. But why do it if the places don't really matter? In Orange Valley we get Fresno with no problem but also the pseudonymous towns of Ardner, Renold and Mercedes. One character goes to college at Willis University, which (from what we learn of the school) can only be Stanford. The need for disguises escapes me.
Orange Valley by Howard Baker. Coward-McCann (1931), 344 pp.
First World War vet Charles Swanson decides to move west to California to become a citrus rancher like his brother Roger. Before leaving Charles has an affair with his landlady's daughter, Magine. The two decide to marry once his ranch is established. Charles' puritanical mother and his younger sister, Juliana, join him right away. Charles doesn't press Magine to come at once, and she marries someone else. The ranch, located in the rainless southern San Joaquin Valley, requires Charles' constant effort and concern, but it may not entirely take his mind away from the absent Magine.
This slow-moving and episodic story seems designed to reflect the numbing repetitiousness of ranch life. Much as oranges and olives, characters come and go, signifying nothing beyond themselves. The author cares about them, even if he finds them dull and dispiriting. A theme of sexual repression runs through some of their lives, with Charles and Juliana its main victims. What attracts him more than the characters are the surroundings -- the landscape, the flora and fauna, the weather. He offers many appreciative descriptions of birds, clouds, trees, and so on. Perhaps readers interested in the southern San Joaquin would enjoy this depiction of the area from eighty years ago. A larger modern audience is difficult to imagine.