Monday, March 02, 2009

Review: Lucky Chica. Berta Platas.

NY: St. Martin's Griffin, 2009.
ISBN: 978-0-312-34174-9
ISBN-10: 0-312-34174-1

Michael Sedano

Chicana literature rewards readers in so many ways. Arresting stories, superb writing, endearing characters, memorable literary experiences. But even with all the great "literary" work being produced by Chicanas writing fiction, one novel has yet to be written: the Great Chick Lit Novel.

For one thing, it'll be a wondrous challenge for a capable writer to break the boundaries of the standard chica novel, give us some genuine unrelieved heartbreak and solid, interesting writing to go along with cute characters, silver linings, and always happy endings. 

But then, maybe that's too iconoclastic and such a work wouldn't be the literary confection that pleases certain readers looking for a fun, unchallenging novel as a respite from more serious tomes, or readers who prefer romance and comedy to other literatures.

For another thing, it would be interesting to see a Chicana writer attack the formula, since the best exemplars of Chica Lit has, so far, come from Cubana Alisa Valdez-Rodriguez and her sucias stories. Valdez writes effectively while introducing some heavy downer topics like eating disorders and adultery. Her diverse cast of Latinas includes brown, white, black women, who are Cubana, Boricua, Mexicana/Chicana. 

There's no danger that Berta Platas' Lucky Chica is going to displease readers looking for an easily consumed novel that skirts around deadly serious issues in order to offer a wonderful respite from whatever. Moreover, there's precious little cultura to be seen in the book. A Spanish phrase here, un cafecito cubano there, black beans and rice for dinner; other than those elements, this is a bolillo of a novel.

What would you do if you won the big lottery prize? That's the premise of Platas' novel. Rather than moping around dreaming what if, Atlanta receptionist Rosie Caballero wins six hundred million dollars. Greedy readers might see trouble in store when Rosie wants to share equally with her abuela and her primo. 

Abuela, a hotel housekeeper, does something unusual; she engages a lawyer friend to help the three of them organize their wealth. He gets them immediate access to cash then sets up their business and personal interests.

Each of the newly-rich characters spends excessively in the first flush of wealth. Rosie buys diamonds and a fur coat. Abuela gives five thousand dollars to a stranger with a sob story. Cheeto buys an ugly Hummer and throws gala parties.

Fame brings unpleasantness. The tabloids call Rosie the Trailer Park Diva or Diamond Rosie, and paparrazi intrude on their privacy. In Rosie's mind, the photos prove a conspiracy to make her look fat and like a hick. It doesn't help that she looks ridiculous in that fur coat.

Enter the love interest, a studly action movie star. Because Brad is puro Hollywood, Rosie's intimidated, but she gets her man after a passionate tryst on a secluded Mexican beach. Then Rosie loses Brad to a hot young starlet. Worse, the lawyer skips the country with all their liquid assets. 

Abuela strikes gold, however, when she gets engaged to a rich septuagenarian (not one of the young studs Rosie feared would prey on abuela's money). To help pull Rosie out of the doldrums, abuela invites Rosie to join her on an exclusive cruise ship island hopping in the Caribbean.

Rosie is kidnaped. By the lawyer. Brad happens to be on the island, come to beg Rosie's forgiveness for the starlet--which was a tabloid rumor anyhow. Rosie attacks her kidnapers, Brad jumps an unsaddled horse and chases down the jeep with Rosie. The crooked lawyer is arrested. Brad gives Rosie a huge diamond.

Happily ever.

There's no irony in Lucky Chica, the title nor the plot. Rosie wins the lottery, wins the movie star, sees the embezzler arrested, restores financial order to her family's life. That must be what good luck looks like.

But that's not all, folks. Good for Platas. Throughout the story, the paparrazi bedevil Rosie, to her enormous unhappiness. But Cheeto--he of the garish lifestyle and outlandish presence, if he weren't a primo he'd be a total jerk--the tabloids leave Cheeto in anonymous bliss, no photos no stories. The last paragraph of Lucky Chica explains why, proving Cheeto is, in fact, a total jerk and closing the book with one last morsel of fun.

Here is it March! What's that line about lions and lambs? And two weeks until the Ides. Time Marches on, indeed! See you next week.


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