Friday, January 06, 2006

Max Martínez

Manuel Ramos

Max Martínez died in November, 2001. I'd like to belatedly commemorate the anniversary of his death by reprinting a short piece I wrote about Max for the 2002 San Antonio Inter-American Bookfair & Literary Festival.

"A few years ago for a review I wrote: 'White Leg grabs the reader by the throat almost from the first page and doesn’t let go until the last gunshot when the reader finally must gasp in relief with a worried, nervous shake of the head. ... Martínez has injected his own droll humor and warped vision in the book, and his characters speak with validity about their dead-end lives, cheap betrayals, and misplaced values. ... Played against a backdrop of Texas small-town politics, family scandals, and the pillars of greed and racism, White Leg definitely is not a casual stroll through literary lane.'

Max’s life was at least as colorful and hard-boiled as that of any of his characters, yet I remember that he treated my wife and me with utmost respect, and a gentle graciousness. My wife loved the man, if for nothing more than that they shared a passion for greasy, sloppy food smothered with chile and Mexican attitude; sly, underdog humor; and music that makes you want to dance.

When we traveled to San Antonio he showed us his town, and we learned not only about his writing and his extensive knowledge of Chicano literature, but also about puffy tacos, his favorite bar, the best place to listen to Chicano music, and his own brand of chisme.


I will always see San Antonio through his eyes–the eyes of a man who drank and smoked too much, a man who knew too much, who wanted too much out of life but who lived it on his own terms, and, so, he suffered a bit. He didn’t achieve the literary fame that rightfully belongs to him, but he wrote exactly the kind of books and stories he wanted to write. He wasn’t the center of attention at a party or any other kind of gathering, but he certainly was among the most interesting people anywhere. At the end of his life, he lacked what we sometimes use to measure success: wealth, fame, power. But at the end, Max had friends who remembered him with cariño and respect, who wished they had spent more time with the guy, and who were actually fond of him. He also left an enduring legacy in his writing–his articles, novels and the stories that only he could tell. Max, I can only say that your writing nailed it, bro."

Martínez wrote three novels, Layover (Arte Público Press, 1997), White Leg (Arte Público Press, 1996) and Schoolland (Arte Público Press, 1988), and two collections of stories, The Adventures of the Chicano Kid (Arte Público Press, 1982) and A Red Bikini Dream (Arte Público Press, 1989). It appears as though all except Adventures of the Chicano Kid are still available from the publisher.

Later.

2 comments:

daniel olivas said...

nicely done. and i admit that i don't know much about martinez's work but now i know what to buy next. and it's cool to see that arte publico has almost all of his books in print. this is one of the benefits of university presses that are committed to keeping worthwhile literature in print even if the sales are not what larger presses would want.

RC said...

max's work is certainly under-appreciated but I think most Chicano prose writers of today have a very long way to go to catch up with him.Enjoyed your post Manuel.It brings back a lot of memories of Max and his gonzo adventures in the Westside of San Antonio and beyond.