Review: Matt Méndez. Twitching Heart. Moorpark, CA: Floricanto Press, 2012.
Isbn: 9781480257023 1480257028
In ten stories making up Twitching Heart, Matt Méndez draws intimate portraits of life on the El Paso / Juarez frontera. As the title predicts, Méndez' debut on the literary fiction market presents a set of stories about heart-broken people and heart-breaking times. Méndez is a portratist, not a novelist, the short form meets his need. Yet, there’s a connectedness among characters and artifacts they own that gives a richness to the collection more akin to a novel.
Méndez offers a cast of well-drawn characters and lots of darkness. As a young author, the writer doesn’t pretend to forge an illuminating ethos for his people. Instead the stories move characters through the night, show people going through the motions thinking through a fog, gente who, when they make decisions, get it all wrong.
There’s a sadness to the characters because Méndez isn’t crafting larger-than-life avatars but ordinary gente at their limit, pendejos and losers being themselves because they can’t help it, and a rare ray of light. People like this are pendejas to someone, and this fact encourages Méndez to weave elements from earlier stories into others. When these connections crop up there’s a delight in the recollection, and satisfying closure to earlier experience, a way of informing one’s understanding of characters and events in terms of those earlier stories. Like Pedro Páramo.
A copy of the novel, Pedro Páramo, belongs to a down on her luck woman in Chuy’s story. Chuy’s an open wound of a person, the opposite of his name. Disappointed in his non-athletic son, his old lady is fed up with him and he proves her right, he’s a total loser. That copy of Pedro Páramo emerges a few stories later when Perla presents it to a bartender as a letting-go of Perla’s last valuable possession. Then Perla disappears herself. Years on, Oscar--Chuy’s son the disappointment—is in the early throes of love (a seeming normal guy) and his girlfriend shoplifts that copy of Pedro Páramo.
The act shines a ray of light into their nascent relationship, as well as Twitching Heart. These guys, this generation, finds happiness, Pedro Páramo has found a loving shelf. Yet, given the tenor of some of these lives, a reader wonders if Méndez is being archly ironic in the last words of the story, Oscar and Linda drive away “partners in crime.”
The entire collection offers enough diversion to excite any reader, with its themes of parenting, manhood, and mortality. But there are a couple of unexpected bonuses. First is a piece of Iraq war fiction. Second, the author’s departures into fantasy.
A visit to the author’s website discloses Matt Méndez is an Air Force Veteran, which explains the authenticity of the bomb loader’s world in the twisted epistolary piece, “Airman”. The military is a visible element of El Paso’s streetscapes, so Méndez puts soldiers in cameo appearances, and one character is a soldier who settled in town after discharge.
Science Fiction and Imaginative Fiction readers, like resident experts blogueros Rudy Ch Garcia and Ernest Hogan, will enjoy when Méndez takes off the restraints of the ordinary and sends his guardian angel character soaring into space, or when literary El Paso becomes dystopian and pilgrims—another Perla--journey to view the last standing saguaro in the land of shrinking babies and maybe birth the last baby on earth.
Twitching Heart rewards readers of diverse interests, but the publisher makes it a chore to acquire. Floricanto Press’ catalog is hopeless. A local brick and mortar bookseller can get your copy. It’s a strong collection, so better get your copies before they all go away.
Top Books Thing
There's a bit of book fun spreading on the social media site, Facebook. The chain letter goes something like this, "don't think just list 10 books that have made a lasting impression on you, then tag ten people to list ten books..." There are all sorts of reasons I don't play Facebook games, so I haven't responded nor tagged a soul.
In fact, I'm sticking with a list I put together in La Bloga back in 2005, in a column I called "the opposite of Chicano Literature?" In 2005, Time magazine listed its top 100 novels in the English language. The list excluded all the writers of the US's hispanoparlante communities. There is no surprise there, and ni modo. Make our own lists Manuel Ramos said. And I agreed. I offered five titles then that I reiterate today.
My intent, by the by, is not "the best" but the essential, books every reader needs to know to be literate about Chicana Chicano literature.
Graciela Limon. Memories of Ana Calderon.
Benjamin Saenz. Carry Me Like Water.
Alfredo Vea. Gods Go Begging.
Alicia Gaspar de Alba. Sor Juana's Second Dream.
Ana Castillo. Peel My Love Like an Onion.
Ask, or Tag, your friends if you wish, see if they agree, how they'd expand or change my top five. Get a conversation started and there's a great chance of finding a holiday gift in the discussion.
Aural On-line Floricanto
When a group of college students at Cal State LA signed up for a Speech Class in advanced communication technology, they found the technology part fun and time-consuming, taking photographs, editing and pulsing audio tape, operating multimedia projectors.
The poetry is what brought life to their eyes. After all, technology is empty electrons without content. And poetry of the early movimiento was puro content in classic rhetorical terms from Burke to Aristotle: identification, exigence, style, delivery, ethos, pathos, logos.
Abelardo's "La Causa" is an early movimiento declaration of independence, a powerful battle protreptic or call to arms. The reader, Al Rosas, has one dysfluency that doesn't damage the impact of the reading. When your tongue trips like Al's has, don't correct yourself, keep going and the audience won't be badly distracted.
Sadly, I am unable to locate a full text version of the piece. Here is an excerpt to read as you listen.
What moves you, Chicano,
to stop being polite?
could be patted on the head
and wouldn’t bite,
how dare you tell your boss,
“Go fly a kite?”
Es la causa,
which had made me a new man.
What is this
which disturbs your steady hand,
could it be an inherited
love of land
or the Indian impudence
called pride that I can’t understand?
This causa, hermano,
is charcoaled abuse
ready to burn.
What nonsense this brown power
that you claim,
what stupid demands
erupt from Will untamed,
what of your poetic submissiveness
that brought you fame?
Es la causa, hermano,
which leaves no one untouched.
Delano awaits the verdict of the nation,
Del Rio and justice
dance in wild anticipation,
El Paso and la causa
will be good for the duration.