Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Review: The Three Kings. On-Line Floricanto

Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez. The three kings. New York : St. Martin's Griffin, 2010.
ISBN: 9780312605339 0312605331

Michael Sedano

Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez’ bills her latest novel, The Three Kings, a Christmas dating story. It is Valdes at her best, spinning a comedic yarn, crafting a host of memorable characters, stretching the limits of outrageous plotting, always having fun with her words.

The Three Kings is a gem of a work. A delighting situation comedy of manners, a picaresque tale built loosely upon the legend of the three wise men featuring one hungry woman in Alburquerque.

Christy de la Cruz desperately needs a lover. She’s recently divorced from a man who claims it’s not her it’s him--he’s gay. Christy is a smart, beautiful, successful business woman, so her ineffectiveness with men mystifies her. She’s desperate enough to become a practitioner of rules laid down in a dating etiquette self-help book titled The Rules.

Christy’s also desperate enough to accept best friend Maggie’s set up for nine guaranteed dates with hot men. Christy will go on three dates with each of the three Reyes primos. Melchior, Casper, Balthazar, just like the three magi. The dates are platonic and must be out of the ordinary. At the end of a month, Christy will choose among the three suitors. The Reyes boys, on their side, are watering at the mouth at the prospect of squiring around the hot Christy.

Christy and Maggie are cousins whose lives took opposite turns. Christy heads back east to a prestigious design school, Maggie is pregnant in tenth grade and today loves her four children by four men. Maggie’s latest vato looks like a bad ass but to Christy he’s a cipher. That’s the familia chisme on Christy, that she’s toda agringada and a snob.

Maggie’s bawdy humor keeps Christy on her toes fending off verbal thrusts, zinging her prima with clever repartee, while Maggie’s advice and insight console Christy in her deepest glumness.

Drawing these men is where Valdes has a lot of fun.

The three Reyes are hunks. Christy’s a snob about looks as well as design and lifestyle, so the men fit the prerequisite of looks.

Melchior is the world’s recognized expert on chimpanzee communication. Dedicated to nature and the environment, he drives a hand made electric car that leaves no carbon footprint. He considers himself a Chimpanzee. If Melchior sounds an extreme caricature, that’s because he is. Poor Melchior, he never stands a chance. When Christy first fantasizes about Melchior, something drives her to think about cat penises.

Casper seems perfect. A talent agent with a big agency, he enjoys quality and comfort, moves in Christy’s über-riche circles—as an insider while she’s an employee. Christy falls in heat with Casper and the only question is will she break the platonic rule on the second, or third date?

Balthazar used to be a nightmare before becoming a dream. Christy thinks Balthazar’s a struggling high school teacher and artist, but that’s dirty dealing by one of the cousins. Christy was a fat girl, hated because she looked different. Balthazar the child made Christy’s life a painful misery. That Christy would agree to date her tormentor challenges believability, with that history. Valdes glosses it with Balthazar’s miserable childhood, and the fact little Christy secretly lusted after the handsome bully. The three dates offer a chance for revenge.

That Valdes enjoys her craft is evident in the story’s outlandishness and word craft. Valdez makes reading The Three Kings a comfortable experience. She breaks her narrative into short segments as opposed to long, continuous chapters. Each scene ends with verbal play, often Christy’s first person summary of the action in progress in form of a wise-ass remark or a disarming self-disclosure.

There’s a lot more to this novel than one would expect with low expectations for chica lit. Valdes pushes hard at the limits of the genre. There’s an engaging complexity to the novel. Beyond the wild dating plot, Valdes develops the Christmas miracle story into a Chicana Ebenezer Scrooge, treating readers to an arresting multi-dimensional consideration of class and ethnicity wrapped around Christy’s snobbishness, selfish tight-fistedness, and a lot of self-denial.

Personal responsibility, that’s Christy’s mantra against giving money to her struggling parents nor Maggie, Christy’s best friend and most trusted confidante. Christy makes a mint selling decorator furniture and interior design to the fabulously wealthy riche inhabiting the best homes surrounding Alburquerque. Christy charges for one job the equivalent of 20 times her father’s annual salary. Christy’s comfortable lifestyle comes out of her own labor just as Maggie’s poverty comes as a result of early pregnancy and high-frequency serial monogamy. For Christy, personal accountability means if you’re successful that’s your fault; if you’re not successful, that’s your fault. Damned if she will help these people.

That’s an odious character flaw, despite all those endearing quirks. If The Three Kings suffers a glaring weakness it’s the author’s decision not to explore Christy’s prejudice and white girl-ness in greater detail. The ending would tug harder at one’s heart strings with a tougher detailing of Christy’s worst trait.

The Three Kings is a lot of fun to read. Valdes makes some risky decisions, most obviously in her characters’ names. Christy de la Cruz—long-suffering Christy--evokes the sacreligious imprecation “Christ on the cross!” Maggie’s name and proclivities allude to Mary Magdalene’s fallen woman story. Los Reyes are the literal three kings of the title.

I’d like to see Valdez let loose. The Three Kings leads her to constrain her style to fit the understated slapstick of her outrageously wild plot. When Christy backs away from relating details of the matanza in the novel’s opening pages, I was disappointed. I thought back to a gem of a set piece in Valdes’ previous novel, The Husband Habit, on roadkill, thinking a matanza deserves a similar piece.

The Three Kings has a vivid visual feel to it, as if Valdes writes with one eye on the reader, another on a television viewer. Indeed, The Three Kings would make one of those warm, wonderful holiday stories that crop up at all hours every holiday. That future popularity, of course, depends on the book’s success. It’s a grand stocking stuffer, but Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez fans need not be that patient: The Three Kings is on bookshelves today.

On-Line Floricanto - November 9, 2010

1. "Blank Canvases" by Matt Sedillo

2. "The End of Superman" by Richard Vargas

3. "Día de los Muertos" by Hedy Trevino

4. “To Be Or Not To Be (for Tom Tancredo" by Trinidad Sanchez, Jr.

5. "In Response to the Man who Asked, 'Why Do Your People March for Everything?'" by Andrea Hernandez Holm

"Blank Canvases" by Matt Sedillo

This contains some lines from another piece but is more or less a freewrite... I wrote it thinking of my friends over at Corazón Del Pueblo and Tía Chucha's

Blank Canvases

by Matt Sedillo

We don’t pay dues
We start unions
We don’t need a P.R. firm
We are the fucking movement
The children
Of the undaunted
The unbeaten
Raised in a culture
Of riot and rebellion
Of street kids
Rocking bandanas
And throwing fingers
Up to the pigs
From the last fighting Aztec
To Hildago and Juárez
From the pride
Of the decolonized
To the struggle to be free
From the Plan De Ayala
To it is better to die
On your feet
Then live on your knees
From Corazón Del Pueblo
To Tía Chucha's
To Self Help Graphics
From the struggle continues
To five hundred years
Of resistance
We speak our own language
Make our own signs
Raise them high
At la marchas and the pickets
Not disturbing peace
Just disturbing injustice
If revolution is an art
Then let these streets
Be our canvases
From Pío Pico
And the founding
Of Los Angeles
To the struggle
Against the convenient
Amnesia of racists
To the struggle to tell
To teach to remember
To own the rights
To our own story
That is written in
The very names
Of these cities
And states
From San Diego and San Fransisco
To Las Vegas, Nevada
To El Paso and San Antonio
To Tucson, Arizona
Where they are trying
Desperately to forget
Where they attempt
To open their veins
And bleed the Mexican
Out of their history
But we will not cower meekly
Nor suffer silently
Nor go quietly
No not we
Not the children
Of the undaunted
Of the unbeaten
Who need no documents
Who are five hundred years
Of living breathing testament
Who know that the future
Is as yet to be determined
A blank check
A blank canvas
The future belongs to those
With the courage to seize it
And we are not
Disturbing the peace
Just disturbing injustice
If revolution is an art
Then let these streets
Be our canvases
And when this is all over
When the troubles have passed
When the day finally breaks
We shall all stand in awe
And marvel
At the beauty we have created

"The End of Superman" by Richard Vargas

The End of Superman

by Richard Vargas

it wasn’t some devious plot
put into action by his nemesis
the pesky Lex Luthor
or a stray meteor shower
of that lethal poison
green kryptonite

it happened on
the Larry King show
during an interview
someone called in
wanted his opinion
on how to rid the
country of all the
lazy dirty illegals
invading the good
ole’ u.s.a. and why
hadn’t he done some-
thing about it already

Superman hemmed
and hawed saying
he didn’t think it was
a legitimate threat
to national security
and besides from
an economic standpoint
it made no sense
and people everywhere
have a right to pursue
a better way of life
since borders don’t
detract from the
fact that we’re all
human beings with
the same wants
and needs

the caller spoke again
this time sounding a lot
like Glenn Beck until he
cleared his throat to
lower his voice as he
asked Superman why
he was going soft on
criminals and that
maybe he wasn’t our
protector of truth
justice and the
American way
after all

Superman tried to
get a word in but then
the caller did the unexpected
he asked Superman to prove
his citizenship and by the way
wasn’t he from another planet
which would truly make him
an illegal alien if there ever
was one

Superman had nothing to say
and after the show turned
himself in to the nearest
ICE detention center
where he now sits with
the other detainees
who are teaching him
Spanish as he wonders
if his dream of an honest
day’s pay for an honest
day’s work was too much
to ask for in this lifetime
or the next

"Día de Los Muertos" by Hedy Trevino

Día de Los Muertos

Para mi hermanita, Karla

by hedy garcia trevino

Gather your flowers
Gather your dreams
Light the candles by the bed
It is time to celebrate
Day of the Dead.

Sing the songs that they love
and bake the pan dulce.
Drape the windows in black.
Wipe the dust off the altars
no time to be triste.

The tamales are steaming the aroma
fills the air.

Those moments captured
between time tonight I celebrate with love
and laughter at the memories of childhood
when you fell in the river.

I see you standing there so little and brave in your
little spotted coat at mother's funeral.
And you collapsed in my arms
at the death of your son.
But one day you smiled again
even if for just a short while
oh brave little one.

Reliving the journey
oh brave little one
I capture your essence
as you walk through the door.

I heard the rustle of your wings
as you brushed by my hair.

Stay little sister
sit by my side
let us eat pan dulce, tamales and sit by the fire

Let us sing and dance in the meadow
where we use to play.

Stay little one, let us sing to the sun
catch butterflies on the run
and chase double rainbows over the river of sorrow.

To Be Or Not To Be (for Tom Tancredo) by Trinidad Sanchez, Jr.

For Tom Tancredo

I want you to know that I am Illegal,
that my parents were Illegal,
that they came to this country
that life would be better
there would be an abundance of justicia!

They raised ten Illegal
children who fought and returned
from those unlawful wars
only to be more Illegal
than when they left.
If that’s not enough,

I want you to know
my siblings have multiplied
and all sobrinos y sobrinas
they are all Illegal.

I want you to know that I am Illegal,
that we’re the ones who
renovated your home, raise your children,
clean up after people like you
maid your houses, garden your flowers.
work your fields, your orchards
construction sites & restaurant kitchens
doing the cheeeeeap hard labor
your kind refuses to do.

I want you to know that I am Illegal.
We are all Illegal Americans from
North, Central & South America
we are all proud of being Illegal Americans.
I want to know with a name like yours
if there are skeletons in your closet . . .
if they are Illegal
& did you ask for their pink cards
after all, people who live in glass houses
need to be extra careful.

Tom Tancredo,
I am Illegal,
I’m proud of being Illegal.
Your Gestapo immigration can’t f uck
with my MEXICAN/CHICANO sueño
for a better life – lleno de justicia
NOT the “just us” American dream
that you look for . . .
a life without people
who are different than you
in color and size and even better than you.

I want you to know
there are no Illegal people,
there are only Illegal governments.
I’m sure you will say
writing this poem is Illegal.
It’s against the law
because it’s the fashionable thing to be.

I want you to know
you will never understand
being ILLEGAL is fun
being a wetback is cool
being a mojado es la moda
because being Illegal
is being different than you
and is the best thing

I know how to be!

Trinidad Sanchez, Jr.
1943 – 2006

"In Response to the Man who Asked, 'Why Do Your People March for Everything?'" by Andrea Hernandez Holm

In Response to the Man who Asked, "Why Do Your People March for Everything?"

by Andrea Hernandez Holm

We were marching long before
We even knew how to walk,
Before there was a notion of you or me—
Just a hope that there would be
One more generation of our people,
And another after that.

Our nanas marched us out of their wombs
To the rhythm of the drum
And we kept on marching, walking
Dancing, and singing
Until our praises were carried
In all directions
So that our ancestors would know we were here.

We march
Through sorrow and joy.
We march
When we are happy
And when we are angry.
We have marched from the belly of the earth
Through the deserts and mountains and rivers,
In the canyons and forests,
By the moonlight and the sunlight,
In the rain and the snow and the heat.

You can see the pattern of our journey
In the stars above.

We march until our voices are too weak
To sing us further.
We march until we are heavy with sweat.
We march to exhaustion.
We march until we bleed,
And still we march.

We make sense of the universe
When we march.
The pounding of our feet reverberates,
Returns to the life force
In all that surrounds us.

We do not march for ourselves.
We are only bodies of energy,
Our lives are but brief moments in time.
We march in the hope that there will be
One more generation of our people
And another after that.

© Andrea Hernandez Holm 2010


Catalina said...

I am disappointed when Chicano/Latino reviewers mention terms like "whitegirl-ness." There are many third and fourth generation Chicanas/Latinas who are experiencing different lifestyles, goals, thought processes and self-expression than our parents and grandparents. We need to stop using these derogatory terms and appreciate the diversity of being American Latinos. Don't judge young Chicanas/Latinas because we do not act the way you think we should. We are the next generation, working hard to hold our own among the mainstream. We are keeping tradition alive, as well as assimilating. Looking forward to reading this book about a modern, successful Latina!

Anonymous said...

That's a good observation Catalina, I'd like to see Michael's response because I'm curious about the definition of Chicana/Latina.

I agree with you in that the third and fourth generation experience is a different one.

The issue of identity is tricky.

msedano said...

Thank you, Catalina and Anonymous, for visiting La Bloga, and for your Comments.

"Whitegirlness" is Christy's term. As "Chicana" is my word. Christy/Valdes uses "Mexican" and "Mexican American" as identity terms. The class v ethnic v conscience v personal responsibility theme that sets The Three Kings apart from run of the mill chic lit is sure to absorb Anonymous and others looking for insights on identity, ethnicity, and selfhood.