The Old Man's Love Story
University of Oklahoma Press - April, 2013
Patricia Anaya died in 2010. She and Rudolfo Anaya had been married for forty-four years. Each excelled individually as teachers and writers, and together they created a strong team devoted to one another and committed to making the world a better place. They established scholarships, literary awards, and other charitable projects as they worked with various organizations such as the Rio Grande Writers Association. They were a force to be reckoned with, major players on the cultural and educational stages, not only of the U.S. Southwest but worldwide.
Patricia encouraged and nurtured Rudolfo's writing. He has often acknowledged the important roles she played in his writing: muse, editor, reader, critic, fan. His latest book, The Old Man's Love Story, is a deeply personal account of life without his beloved wife.
The narrator is an "old man," never named but Anaya does not hide that he is writing about himself. Several references in the book refer directly to Anaya's previous literary works. For example, the old man speaks about one of the characters in a work in progress, Randy Lopez (Randy Lopez Goes Home, 2011). Other comments in the book reference early works such as the pivotal childhood accident from Tortuga (1979), and youthful adventures on the streets of Albuquerque that frame Heart of Aztlan (1976.) Of course, the back story from his first novel, Bless Me, Ultima (1972), also makes an appearance.
The old man's emotions are raw and brittle. At times, his story drifts into a dreamland of memory and yearning, and we can only guess whether the old man is living what he talks about or simply thinking about it, fantasizing. One passage retells how the old man thought he saw his wife in a downtown mall. He had driven, slowly, of course, to the mall and immediately regretted his decision. The place was too loud, too busy, with too many rude young people. But out of nowhere he recognized a bright-patterned blouse and colorful Mexican skirt. The clothes had been worn by his wife, of that he was sure. He became tremendously excited and anxious. He called after the woman wearing the clothes. "Amor! Amor!" She ignored him. She obviously was a homeless person of the streets. It made no sense to the old man, who was almost traumatized by the incident. Only after his shock subsided did he remember that he had given his wife's clothes to a shelter.
Anaya's writing is infused with his uniquely religious understanding of the natural world and of the spiritual nature of existence. The Old Man's Love Story exists in the spirit world, but it is a very real world to the old man. Spirits and living memories exist along the banalities of life for a seventy-five year-old man. The spirit of his departed wife eventually visits him and guides him through the stages of grief. She encourages him to move on, to preserve her memory by making new memories, and to escape his sadness by living life with the same exuberance and hope they once shared. She talks with him, comforts him, listens to his prayers. His pain is deep and Anaya does not shy away from opening his wounds for readers.
It is a difficult time, exacerbated by the old man's aging process. He complains about his aching body, his dwindling memory, his lack of appetite. The personal gives way to the universal. Some of his comments are litanies of problems that all of us over fifty recognize. The simple activities of daily life torment him. Here's his take on showering:
"Everything took time, especially reaching down and scrubbing his feet. His back hurt. Need a stool in here, he thought. Hard to bend down. Even taking a shower had become a chore. Took forever. When he was done he sat on the toilet seat and towel-dried himself. He wouldn't shave. What for?"
The old man is haunted by the spirits of his past life with his wife. He imagines and re-imagines their numerous trips to other countries, especially Mexico. He submerges himself in remembering the most minute detail of their life together, including sensual and erotic lovemaking. Some of the passages were difficult to read because it seemed as though I was prying into very private territory, into Anaya's heart and soul. I can only imagine how difficult it was for him to write the words. And yet, it is obvious that Anaya wanted this story told and preserved.
Eventually the old man begins a new relationship. The spirit of the deceased wife tells him that it is time for a "new phase." A transition. A time to learn to love again. Establishing the new relationship is not a simple matter, and guilt and self-pity play their part in the evolution of the story, as well as a few humorous observations about love and sex among the elderly.
The story is not quite done when the book ends. In fact, the journey of the old man and his wife continues on various levels. But the old man accepts that love can conquer grief. "He knew the only way out of an existential crisis was to get going. That meant caring for family, community, and the poor of the world. Care for the earth, mother of all. Not to receive, but to give, as long as he could."
The Old Man's Love Story doesn't solve the Great Mystery, as the old man refers to the puzzle of the interaction of life/death, but it does give us essential tools for dealing with that mystery: hope, humor, a bit of sadness, and, most important, love.
Crimespree Magazine Presents a Desperado Give Away. Plus a New Short Story. Interview
Crimespree Magazine has this announcement on its website:
This week (May 17), in conjunction with Friday Reads Facebook page, we are giving away copies of Chelsea Cain’s KILL YOU TWICE audiobook, Dana Cameron’s SEVEN KINDS OF HELL , Manuel Ramos’ DESPERADO and Daniel Stashower’s THE HOUR OF PERIL audiobook.
To be entered in the drawing shoot an email over to Jonfirstname.lastname@example.org (remove the question mark) And put CONTEST in the subject line. Also please put your address in the body of the email
We will pick the winners on May 24th. When we do the drawing we will be sending an extra something for one lucky winner to be picked from the comments section of the Friday Reads face book page, so after you enter, go leave a comment!
The latest issue of Crimespree (#51) includes an interview of me conducted by fellow crime writer Steven Torres, as well as my short story When the Air Conditioner Quit. A bit of border noir. Hope you pick up a copy of the magazine. You can look at the interview online at this link.
Finally, I'll be readin', signin', and talkin' on May 19 at 7:00 PM at West Side Books, 3434 W. 32d Avenue, Denver. Come by for an informal evening of conversation about readin' and writin'. Should be fun.
Keep on Readin'