Review: Michael Nava. Lay Your Sleeping Head. San Francisco: Kórima Press, 2016.
1986 was a long time ago, in literary time and in my memory time.
All that remains in my memory of Michael Nava’s 1986 novel, The Little Death, is knowing I sought out every subsequent Henry Rios novel, and the disappointment when I accepted that Nava had moved on from Henry and wouldn’t be presenting me with another Henry Rios novel.
A loner owing to being cast out by his brutal Mexicano father as well as Henry’s own sexuality in a restrictive straight world, Henry Rios stood out as a unique character not to mention being the first Chicano detective in mystery fiction.
Henry Rios is back from the land of remaindered titles and wherever it is great characters go when they’re out of print. Henry Rios isn’t exactly the same vato. He's an easy mark for a pretty face, he still makes poor decisions that get him in trouble, and that aside, trouble seeks him and thrashes him.
Most distinctively, Michael Nava has liberated himself and Henry from thirty-year old constraints on graphic sex.
Lay Your Sleeping Head, Nava’s 2016 rewrite of The Little Death pulls no punches about Henry’s sex life. Some readers, in fact, will have difficulty with the opening three chapters’ account of Rios falling in love with Hugh, a man who spells trouble.
At first the attraction is puro lust, but hooking up quickly turns to heartfelt passion, then confusion, confession, and what must be love. Henry is desperate to believe Hugh loves him, and that he loves Hugh. Nava shares a powerful sense of what Henry wants to discover. A mythical foundation story tells that people were dualities, man-man, woman-woman, man-woman, but the proto-beings were torn apart and humanity became a species of individuals seeking to rejoin their rightful other half. Hugh is Henry’s other half.
At the end of chapter four, Hugh is murdered.
Nava builds the story of Henry’s search for the killers with twists, turns, duplicity, error, and frustration. Rios’ investigation has to work around a homophobic cop and institutional corruption. A law school friend—Henry’s best friend—turns betrayer. A good cop risks her career to help, then feels betrayed by Henry’s tactics. A man out of Hugh’s boarding school past enters the scene to help with the case while slipping into Henry’s arms. Their relationship is of the variety, “if only we’d met under different circumstances…”
Readers will enjoy the unfolding plot, the legalisms, the primer on estate law, the wretchedly horrid bad people who deserve a healthy dose of come-uppance and payback. The complications and just desserts grow so entangled that Nava has to resort to a gimmicky tactic where a character tells the reader-as-Rios “if this were a mystery novel, right now you’d have to find this, admit that, discover a key element.” And, that’s exactly what takes place.
Detective novels tend to come with moralistic fringes, and this one does that. Lay Your Sleeping Head provides readers with a satisfying measure of righteousness and vindication for the variety of purity Henry stands for, while leaving Henry a bit worse for the experience: he’s unemployed, betrayed, alone.
Power, money, corruption, dynasties—these are fancy words for evil, just as tarte tartin is a fancy word for apple pie. All are elements in Henry's story.
As Henry Rios unravels the skeins of evil, he comes to understand his own nature. That nature makes him a compelling character. He is a being denied his other half, after thinking he’s found that. Henry Rios is a romantic, a seeker of truth and love in a world of liars and exploiters. Readers will want more of this character.
Lay Your Sleeping Head is published by Kórima Press. Scheduled for a December release, widespread distribution and availability are problematic. That’s readily remedied by ordering publisher-direct here.
Unrequited Despair But There's A Cure
November 8's election has cleaved the nation into factions, many at each other's throats. Friendships and families are torn asunder by gloating partisanship and true-believer despair. Voices of reason are met with refusal, while people of color are met with violence akin to the winning candidate's basest impulses and speeches.
In that atmosphere, Amelia M.L. Montes sought words of advice, consolation, and positivity for her students at the University of Nebraska Lincoln. She published these in Sunday's La Bloga. La Bloga-Tuesday adopted a different tact.
Over several years, Chicano artist Gilbert Magu Lujan, brought his "Mental Menudo" tertullia to Michael Sedano's house where a core group was joined by a guest list comprised of other artists, poets, writers, critics, and activists. When Magu was absent, Sedano termed the gatherings "Mental Cocidos." Now that Magu has transitioned to the other side--QEPD, there will never be another Mental Menudo, only Mental Cocidos.
"Come to a Mental Cocido With Menudo," Michael Sedano wrote. "Bring something joyful to share, something you made, a song, a poem, good news." No politics. Puro joy. A pot of menudo and beverages awaited the guests, and the reminder from John Keats, "Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."
Diane and Sergio Hernandez shared news of a new granddaughter, the recently-completed movie on Con Safos Magazine, and Serge brought copies of two issues. Angel and Mario Guerrero brought news of Mario's near-completion of a 3-D printing studio at their home. Mario brought a scale-model human heart, and news of a prosthetic Toucan bill, a bird's foot, and a human esophagus his firm has produced. Guerrero and Garcia are collaborating on design software to enhance Garcia's creations. Manuel Urrutia brought his encyclopedic knowledge of lyrics to old Mexican standards. Margaret Garcia and Rhett Beavers brought a work-in-progress fused glass painting, and Margaret brought her singing voice.
|Margaret Garcia and Manuel Urrutia sing duet. Manuel knows the words, Margaret reads from a phone screen.|
|Guests gather to view Margaret Garcia's work-in-progress fused glass work.|
|Margaret Garcia explains the techniques used to create and amend the work.|
The Mental Cocido at Casa Sedano is one of numerous iterations of this variety of literary-artistic gathering. Visit the Facebook community, Mental Menudo, for news of events in your area.