Cover image for The Blossom Festival
The Blossom Festival
Coates, Lawrence, 1956-
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Publication Information:
Reno, Nev. : University of Nevada Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
344 pages ; 24 cm.
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The Blossom Festival chronicles rural life in the Santa Clara Valley during the decades leading up to World War II. Against the lush backdrop of millions of fruit trees unfold the personal dramas of a fascinating cast of characters. This leisurely read explores the complex relationships between parents and children in the context of a rich California region bent on replacing agriculture with computer chips to become Silicon Valley.

Author Notes

Lawrence Coates has worked as a Third Mate in the Merchant Marine, as a freelance journalist in Mexico, and as a high school teacher in Paris. Born in Berkeley, California, he served four years in the Coast Guard and another four in the Merchant Marine, spending time in the North Atlantic, the Hawaiian Island chain, and in the Arabian Sea during the Iranian Hostage Crisis. He holds a bachelor's degree from the University of California at Santa Cruz and gained fluency in Spanish while studying abroad in Barcelona, Spain. He taught in the Lycee Charlemagne in Paris after completing a master's degree at Berkeley, and went on to earn his doctorate at the University of Utah. He has received a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in Fiction, and his work has appeared in The Chicago Tribune, The Missouri Review, Greensboro Review, and elsewhere.

His first novel, The Blossom Festival, won the Western States Book Award for Fiction, the Utah Book Award, and was selected for the Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers Program. His second novel, The Master of Monterey, was published in 2003. After several years at Southern Utah University, Coates currently teaches in the creative writing program at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. Click here to visit the author's website.

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

California's Santa Clara Valley has become known as Silicon Valley, a transformation that debut novelist Coates implicitly contrasts by setting his tale in the orchard-strewn, pastoral community during the years between the two world wars. The plot meanders across decades and weaves many family sagas together. Harold Madison was abandoned by his father as a child, and he in turn abandons his girlfriend, Betsy Moreberg, when she becomes pregnant. Betsy is forced to give up her son, Peter, but 11 years later reunites with him. Peter's story soon meshes with that of classmates Albin and Olivia Roberts, and with Fumiko Yamamoto, the nisei daughter of an immigrant Japanese family. Their lives colorfully described, these Valley-dwellers cherish their cherry and pear orchards, bake scrumptious homemade pies and don't "spare the rod" in child-rearing. The last few chapters depict the "blossom festival" of the title, as townsfolk gather for the event that was observed annually between 1900 and 1941. This celebration of springÄfeaturing sack races, children's pageants, pseudo-freak shows, barbecued rabbit and kite-flying contestsÄis destined to be one of the last, though the characters don't know that. Especially poignant are the scenes tracing Fumiko and her family's attempts to assimilate, as readers foresee the WWII internment camps that await them. Meanwhile, Coates describes the bigotry Fumiko suffers as her friends try to sneak her into the festival and protect her from racist thugs. Two tender love stories develop, between Fumiko and Albin and between Peter and Olivia, indicating the hope each spring brings. This quietly old-fashioned novel occasionally stumbles on its nostalgic reverie, but its essence is bittersweet: that even a paradisical land is marked by the human hopes and hatreds that reverberate long after the orchards are replaced by corporate parks. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One The Last Game November 11, 1920 They played ball on a dirt field that sloped up toward the railroad embankment in right field and dropped off beyond left field into a ravine. They always called it the Southern Pacific Field, because the railroad owned it. None of them thought it had ever been called anything else. Leafless fruit trees marked the foul lines, but the boys could not have told if the field had once been an orchard before the railroad bought and cleared it. They didn't know if it had once served as wheat field for Yankee, or grazing land for Spaniard, or vineyard for Franciscan, or, in times past, a seed meadow where Ohlone women walked and gathered and greeted each clump of trees and each large rock by its true name. The boys played in the endless present of the game, hit and ran across a field created, they had no reason to doubt, especially for them.     Harold Madison, the oldest and tallest of the players, watched a ball crack cleanly in the air toward him in left field. He circled in, the ball a high white mark in the dark sky, then knew in an instant he'd misjudged, It was over his head. He spun and ran with his back to the field, but he saw the ball land beyond him, bounce twice, and disappear into the ravine.     "Damn," Harold swore automatically. He hung his glove on the foul-line tree and spidered down to find the ball. The sides of the ravine were slick and leaf-covered, and putty-colored trees curved in toward the creek at the bottom, and everywhere the air smelled wet and rotten.     Then he stumbled over some rock and ash--a dead hobo fire--and he heard a noise.     "You lost something? Or just lost."     An old man with leaves tangled in his hair grinned at Harold from across the creek. He held the baseball up, and Harold saw that the man was missing three fingers. Stumps, dirt-grained as old carrots, played across the seams.     Overhead, a freight train pounded slowly across the railroad bridge that leaped the ravine.     "Can I have the ball back, mister?"     "So, you did lose something," the man said. Harold figured that this was another crazy logger or teamster, left over from the lumbering days. The last redwood had been brought down the hill nine years earlier, when he was seven, and some men had never quite caught on anywhere else. They wandered through the prosperous valley like graying ghosts, and Harold had always been told to leave them be. They were dangerous, people said. Strays.     "What did you lose?" The man's yellow teeth showed in his smile.     "The baseball."     " This baseball?"     "Please, mister." Harold didn't want to get any closer to him.     "Ho, ho, ho. Please! " He laughed, then threw the ball across the creek to Harold.     "Thanks." Harold turned and scrambled up the hill, and he heard the old man behind him.     "See you around, sport."     The trees thinned and the sky grew lighter as he reached the edge of the ravine, and the air was colder and cleaner, without the damp rotting smell. He pushed off one last tree and clambered up to the playing field. The other boys were waiting for him.     Paolo, the shortstop, waved for the ball.     "Come on. Rain's coming."     Harold signaled thumbs-up and threw in to Paolo, and their makeshift diamond grew alive again with game chatter. But Harold looked up to the sky, and he knew this would be the last day for baseball. Time was passing. After this holiday, the days would grow short and the rains would come frequently, turning the field to mud. This was Armistice Day, two years after the war, and he and the others, standing on the field under the gray sky, had decided to skip the flags and parade and speeches in San Jose and play one last time together.     Now the old man had taken him away from the game. He looked back to the ravine, half afraid he would see him rising out of the leaves, rank and enormous. He saw there instead a picture from his memory, a day in October, some years past.     From the yards a track switch clacked into place and a train whistle blew.

Table of Contents

1 Lone Hill
1 The Last Gamep. 3
2 Southlandp. 6
3 Lone Hillp. 24
4 The Well-Kept Homep. 32
5 Mrs. Madisonp. 36
6 The Lye Shedp. 41
7 The Butterfly Skirtp. 52
8 Full-Time Manp. 59
9 Knock on the Doorp. 74
10 The Last Gamep. 86
11 Beat the Chinamanp. 95
2 The Coast Daylight
12 The Coast Daylightp. 107
13 Off Visiting Relativesp. 114
14 A View from the Towerp. 130
15 The Valley of Heart's Delightp. 138
16 Lone Hillp. 155
17 Gambitp. 163
18 The Forgep. 172
19 Pokerp. 192
20 House Firep. 200
21 Coal Oilp. 207
22 Shorty's Dreamp. 213
23 New Dealp. 219
24 Steen's Dreamp. 226
3 The Blossom Festival
25 The Year of the Roosterp. 233
26 The Fairy Kingp. 249
27 Cherry Rainp. 257
28 The Language of Birdsp. 272
29 The White-Limbed Girlsp. 281
30 The Blossom Festivalp. 292
31 The World's Fairp. 325
Epilogue: To 1942p. 341
Acknowledgmentsp. 345