Friday, May 12, 2006

The Man Who Could Fly

Manuel Ramos


At less than two hundred pages, Rudolfo Anaya’s The Man Who Could Fly and Other Stories (University of Oklahoma Press, 2006) might appear to be less important than it really is. But make no mistake, this slim volume represents a lifetime of quality writing and much appreciated storytelling. It is an essential compilation of Anaya’s cherished abilities to illustrate truthfully the intersection of human foibles and triumphs and to expose the mysteries of the natural and secret world often taken for granted by its human inhabitants.

The short story form challenges any writer. Here are eighteen examples of how to meet that challenge.

The stories cover thirty years of writing, from 1976's The Place of the Swallows, a strange tale of wild boys and their adolescent tribe that develops into a metaphor about leadership, power, mob psychology and the importance of myth, to the first publication of The Man Who Could Fly, a parable that reads like a Mexican dicho full of homespun wisdom that ends with a folkloric moral.

Some of the stories are sensual and earthy - Iliana of the Pleasure Dreams or Absalom - and the characters are people often crippled with emptiness, desire and passion. Others deal with death - sometimes stark and sudden, sometimes a lengthy journey, but always as part of the experience that connects us all, at least in Anaya’s universe. Jeronimo’s Journey evokes sentiments that remind me, favorably, of Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Páramo. In Search of Epifano is an old woman’s lament about her lost history and family, but it also reveals how it is never too late, even at the point of death, to recognize what is important about life. Other selections dredge up ancient legends (Message from the Inca and The Village That the Gods Painted Yellow), or are as current as this morning’s newspaper headlines (Devil Deer and Dead End), yet they all have some instruction, some guidance, for any time.

Two stories stand out for me because they give a glimpse into the life of a writer from the perspective of a man who has committed himself to the writing life. The set-up in A Story is that of a writer in search of a story. The author attends a New Year’s day family party - menudo, relatives with hangovers, and, of course, the threat of violence. The author struggles for the story until he realizes that the story is all around him, in fact, the story could kill him. The ending tells me that whatever the risks, the writer must take them for the sake of the story. He must have control. The second writing story is B. Traven is Alive and Well in Cuernavaca, a story that draws on an imaginative narrative about a writer suffering from writer’s block in Mexico at the same time that he is feted by fans and sycophants. The ghostly image of the mysterious B. Traven hovers in the background, almost taunting the writer. As the story progresses, we see how the writer must weave threads of fantasy, dreams, and outright lies into a reality that is more true than actual experience, until at last, the story is "overflowing" and the writer must write it.

Finally, The Silence of the Llano - a gem. Anaya obviously understands the struggles of the people of the lonely and forlorn llano, the place where he was born and raised. He is at his best when he portrays the simple and hard lives of these people. He imbues the story with rough texture and subtle sentimentality. He includes the spiritual and the natural as well as the day-to-day agony of loneliness and despair. This is a sad story crying out for release. It is a testament to the storyteller’s charm that when the ending surprises us we accept it. We believe it. That’s about as good as it can get with a story.


I'm flying myself because my short story, No Hablo Inglés, is up at the Hardluck Stories site. Here are the opening lines:

The lone ray of sunshine streaming through a crease in the dirt-stained window caught the corner of my eye and my head throbbed. A splinter of pain lodged itself in my eyeball. I sucked on a Tecate and a slice of lime whose rind had brown spots. I couldn’t remember the name of the joint in Juárez that had produced the hangover.

“So, what’s the deal, Manolo? Can you do any kind of lawyerin’, or is it like, you know, over for good?”

Nick knew I didn’t talk about my disbarment, but he asked crap all the time.

“Nick,” I answered, looking him straight in his blood-shot eyes, “can you still say Mass? Give communion with the watered-down tequila you serve?”

Read the rest of this and several other very good stories in the Borderland Noir issue of Hardluck Stories.


No comments: