Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Sucias Lose Charm; bits 'n pedazos

Michael Sedano

Review: Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez. Dirty Girls On Top. NY: St. Martin's Press, 2008.
ISBN: 978-0-312-34967-7. ISBN-10: 0-312-34967-X

For the majority of its 336 pages, Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez' sucias fail to live up to the optimistic title of their second outing. Not only has the author grown weary of her generally cutely endearing comadres, she treats them with undisguised contempt that defeats a purposeful reader looking for a good time in escapist comity.

The brashly reckless Usnavys, leads the story. Solidly married to househusband Juan, Usnavys thinks of herself as a plus-sized love goddess. That some men respond to her allure reaffirms her self image. Yet, one of her friends thinks Usnavys dresses outrageously and eats too much, and one man calls her a "fat bitch". Although he is a lethal misogynist, the ugly description carries some weight. Usnavy's narcissistic stupidity brings her marriage to a breaking point and as the novel ends, Usnavys finds herself alone and desperate.

Lauren acts the complete fool for the hot Amaury. A drug lord gone straight, he's an east coast promo man for a record company but also a cheating predator who hits on fourteen year olds. Lauren suspects Amaury's infidelity but convinces herself of his sincerity when he confesses his love. Think John Belushi and Carrie Fisher in The Blues Brothers. She punishes herself by binge eating and bulimic purging. A talented newspaper columnist, Lauren gets the wool pulled off her eyes when she agrees to mentor a talented boy-crazy high school writer, only to discover the child is Amaury's current sancha on the side.

Rebecca and Andre, the brilliant Nigerian-born Londoner with more money than midas, live a comfortable life, except she is an uptight straight-laced misfit who doesn't understand how to enjoy being with her oddball friends. The most "normal" appearing woman in the group, Rebecca suffers miscarriage after miscarriage, blaming a horseback ride for the one she experiences on the flight back home after her reunion with las sucias. When her paisana compañera Cuicatl offers to surrogate a child for Rebecca and Andre, Rebecca rejects the offer, in part because the Church forbids it, but mostly out of disgust because the rock star friend smokes pot.

Sara is the most benighted of the comadres. Single parenting her twins now that Antonio, her asshole abuser of a husband, has fled to Argentina after murdering the housekeeper and beating Sara into a stupor, Sara welcomes Antonio back into her life. In Valdes-Rodriguez' most chilling writing, she puts us into Antonio's mind where we understand his utter contempt for Sara, thus fear Sara's moth-to-flame self-destructiveness as she seeks Antonio's approval. She tells him she's taking karate, why doesn't she kick his ass for him?

Elizabeth has taken a wife, the miserable Selwyn, a whining woman who resents men and takes it out on their adopted son. When Lauren toys with Elizabeth's needy sexuality, the encounter nearly ends their friendship. Then Selwyn abandons Elizabeth and the child, proving Elizabeth's poor choice in mates and lovers. What is it about thirty-something women, they can't find a suitable mate?

Valdez-Rodriguez reserves her most bitter contempt for the chicana Cuicatl. In the singer-songwriter's manner of dress and speech, readers will detect an ethnic spite that grows either from mean-spiritedness or too little information about chicanidad. Cuicatl's "chicano" patois features frequent "órale" and "pinche" interjections, sometimes appropriately but as often in odd-sounding idioms. When Cuicatl has intercourse atop the Pyramid of the Sun the exaggeration is breathtaking.

True to her title, however, Valdez-Rodriguez manages to stretch everything back into a semblance of righteous order. The randy Usnavys becomes contrite and adapts to the lifestyle of a stay at home mom; Lauren checks into a clinic and plans to move down to TJ to write novels; Elizabeth finds true love--with a rich woman; Sara is head over heels in love with a twenty-three year old swain with a cute Tejano accent; Rebecca overcomes her religious hangups and finds her surrogate; Cuicatl/Amber finds a new stardom and cynically surrogates for a pair of East Los firebrands. They are on top.

Much as I have enjoyed Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez' work in the first sucias novel, and especially her well-crafted Make Him Look Good, I found much tedium and little to admire in Dirty Girls On Top. Rather than gaining some insight into the actions of a woman, and being able to enjoy these particular wild women's antics, I found little to explain their stupid mistakes. Instead, I found myself empathizing with an author in too deep to a story gone wrong, and unable to put herself into a better place. Let us hope her next work will prove a more satisfying experience for both author and reader.

Rigoberto Gonzales Reviews New Collection of Jose Antonio Burciaga Work

Burciaga's humor places him among the giants of chicano essay. His piece on the word "pendejo" invariably forces laughter from even the most seriously academic reader. Most moving work, however, are a pair of thoughtful pieces. The one at the beginning of Spilling the Beans, on learning of his aunt's cancer finds an eerie parallel when he later learns of his own cancer and writes of that as he closes that collection. It put me mindful of my dad's favorite saying "pa'lla va la sombra."

Here's Rigoberto on the The Last Supper of Chicano Heroes:

Burciaga's respect for his community and the unmistakable articulate phrasing of that respect are celebrated in this long-overdue volume edited by Mimi R. Gladstein and Daniel Chacón. Published 12 years after his untimely death, this project gathers a modest but no less powerful selection from Burciaga's body of influential critical essays, poems, fictions and portfolios of artistic work.

A pioneer of Chicano literature and activism, Burciaga was one of the founding members of Culture Clash, the comedic performance troupe known for its biting political satire. That humor is certainly highlighted here with the inclusion of such well-known pieces as "E.T. and Me" and "Pendejismo," and the never-before-published "For Whites Only,"...

The full essay appears in the El Paso Times of September 28, 2008.

Two 8-Book Winners. Contest Continues This Week.

La Bloga happily announces two winners of the La Bloga / Hachette Book Give-Away. Both submitted 100% correct answers to the Saturday quiz.

1. The oldest known photograph of Los Angeles’ plaza dates to this year.
1862. Dan Olivas' Monday column.

2. The four colors in the detective series The Havana Quartet.
Gold, Black, Blue, Red. Michael Sedano's Tuesday column.

3. She earned one of the 2008 Alfredo Cisneros Del Moral Foundation Awards as well as the 2006 Colorado Book Award.
Sheryl Luna. Rene Colato Lainez' Wednesday column.

4. This writer’s story, Fence Busters, is set for publication October 14, in the Rocky Mountain News.
Manuel Ramos. Manuel's Friday column.

5. Marta Aponte Alsina published her first novel when she was 49 because...
she didn't want to publish it when she was 50. Lydia Gil's Saturday guest column.

Look for this Saturday's questions at noon Pacific Time. Questions and answers all come out of the week's La Bloga columns. The earliest correspondents to submit 100% correct responses, along with their mailing address, will receive the following outstanding library:

Dream in Color by Linda Sánchez, Loretta Sánchez
Gunmetal Black by Daniel Serrano
The Gifted Gabaldón Sisters by Lorraine López
Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
Brownsville by Oscar Casares
The Hummingbird's Daughter by Luis Urrea
The General and the Jaguar by Eileen Welsome
Tomorrow They Will Kiss by Eduardo Santiago

Our winners last week are:
Tom Miller from Tucson, Arizona
John Alba Cutler from Evanston, Illinois

And there's Tuesday, September 30. A day like any other day, except we are here.


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