Monday, July 11, 2011

Book Review of “The Book of Want”

The Book of Want is the first full-length novel by renowned short story writer Daniel A. Olivas, Los Angeles lawyer, editor, and widely-anthologized author of three collections of fiction, a novella, and a children’s book.

By guest reviewer Frank Mundo of LA Books Examiner

The Book of Want by Daniel A. Olivas
Paperback: 122 pages: $16.95
University of Arizona Press (March 1, 2011)
ISBN-10: 0816528993
ISBN-13: 978-0816528998

The Book of Want is a novel because the author says it’s a novel, but really it’s a novel in stories—a book unlike anything else you’ll read this summer, and, perhaps, many summers to come.

In a delightful and lyrical prose, the book follows the lives of two very different Mexican-American sisters, their families, loved ones, special friends and a couple of extremely judgmental dead relatives who visit them from time to time in dreams or in visions.

Conchita, the older sister, is what one might call a cougar in Los Angeles today, an older, hot woman who looks good and knows it, and who hooks up exclusively with much younger, very attractive men, and always has—and she doesn’t care who knows it. It’s not until Conchita meets and falls for her neighbor Mr. Rojo, a handsome and mysterious widower, that she suddenly begins to question her spinster ways. And why not? Mr. Rojo’s other-worldly charms, which may or may not be based in science and/or spirituality, seem to defy not only Conchita’s long-held beliefs, but the very Laws of Nature as well.

Julieta, Conchita’s younger, more traditional sister is married and has twin sons just starting out their college careers at UCLA. Lately Julieta’s husband, Manny, has been acting suspiciously and we discover, as they do, the painful consequences of long-held secrets between them, (Julieta has some secrets of her own as well), that will challenge their marriage and the life they built together for decades. Secrecy turns out to be major theme for this family as we also follow the budding love lives of their sons Rolando and Mateo (the older brother by 3 minutes). While Rolando secretly struggles with his homosexuality, Mateo, who thinks he knows everything about everything including love, openly fights against anyone or anything that dares to stand in the way of what he wants.

It’s important to note that while each of the book’s ten chapter is cleverly aligned with each of the Ten Commandments, it’s not really that kind of book. This is a short and fast-moving narrative, only 122 pages, about what it really means to be human despite the nagging elements of life, death, love, tradition, politics, religion, sexuality, history, friendship, family and even a little magic that seems to get in the way.

I thoroughly enjoyed this short but powerful book. In fact, I was so excited as each chapter ended, and I couldn’t wait to find out what would happen next to this incredibly drawn group of characters—something that hasn’t happened to me with any novel in a long time.

Without spoiling too much more of the story, my favorite part of the book is its 10th chapter, which the writer calls a symphony, made up of a unique hodgepodge of vignettes, episodes, interviews, text messages, etc., where seemingly random details and moments are revealed by the author after the fact that weave together even tighter the fabulous tapestry we're left with as the book ends and leaves us wanting more.

Bottom line: Daniel A. Olivas is a gifted storyteller and his first novel (or whatever you want to call it) The Book of Want is one of my favorite books of 2011.

[Frank Mundo is the author of The Brubury Tales, which is available on, Barnes & Noble and Borders in paperback and in eBook. This review first appeared in LA Books Examiner.]

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