Saturday, February 07, 2015

On Daniel José Older's novel, Half-Resurrection Blues

I already noted that the dude's first novel is going to burn up USican speculative literature, much like Junot Díaz's novels scorched literary fiction. Or like Raymond Chandler helped prop the pulp-bar for crime-detective fiction. Problem is, some critics have no idea what DJ wrote. I won't bet my last bottle of Don Pedro that I do, either. Daniel Olivas already did The Review of Older, but I got cosas to add.

Reviewers have called this novel: spectral noir, hard-core fantasy, genre fiction, urban fantasy, Noir, a literary .44 [magnum], mystery, suspense, supernatural thriller, ghost-detective, plus, there's also "diverse." If your hood hasn't been totally gentrified-razed of culture, and you can find a bookstore, I won't guess where you'll find this book. Except, probably on the chingón-bestseller table. Where Nora Robert's and Michael Crichton's tomes are trying to edge themselves away from DanielJosé's, to not get their white pages sullied by some street Newyorquian noir.

Check it, people--Half-Resurrection was released. One. Whole. Month. Ago. Jan. 6th. Two weeks--a mere fokkin' 14 days--later comes this announcement:

"Tony Award-winning actress Anika Noni Rose has optioned TV/film rights to Daniel José Older’s urban fantasy series Bone Street Rumba."
Sheeeet! Not just his first novel optioned, all his pinche Rumbas. A debut novelist's dream is to get 1 book optioned. But a whole series? That's no dream; that's Great Sea Mother Yemaya cradling you, mowing your detractors with her machete, and blessing your progeny with free-rides through Columbia Univ. So, someone besides me thinks Older's Rumba books are worth more than a read.

Like some hallucination, while reading Half-Resurrection Blues, it came to me to compare/contrast DanielJosé with Chandler and Junot. Chandler's dead and won't give much of a fokk anymore, and Junot may not concur, pero, así va.

He just did't get blacks.
From Chandler, mostly, The Big Sleep:
"The streets were dark with something more than night." [Walter Mosley might define this is THE writing--terse, snappy, quick-and-move-on-ly.]

"From 30 feet away she looked like a lot of class. From 10 feet away she looked like something made up to be seen from 30 feet away." [Ignoring his white-machismo, this is smooooth.]

“I don't mind your showing me your legs. They're very swell legs and it's a pleasure to make their acquaintance. I don't mind if you don't like my manners. They're pretty bad. I grieve over them during the long winter nights.”

“She lowered her lashes until they almost cuddled her cheeks and slowly raised them again, like a theatre curtain. I was to get to know that trick. That was supposed to make me roll over on my back with all four paws in the air.”
DanielJosé doesn't compare to Chandler, though he can chandler when he's in the mood. I put one pata en mi boca and state, sin miedo, that DanielJosé is deeper than Chandler. Period.

Here's some Junot [Díaz]:
“She was the kind of girlfriend God gives you young, so you'll know loss the rest of your life.” [Male authors of all colors must write about las mujeres as undiscovered territory, revealed, que no?]

“You really want to know what being an X-Man feels like? Just be a smart bookish boy of color in a contemporary U.S. ghetto. Mamma mia! Like having bat wings or a pair of tentacles growing out of your chest.”

“Dude, you don't want to be dead. Take it from me. No-pussy is bad. But dead is like no-pussy times ten.” [Mujeres as objetos, again.]

“In a better world I would have kissed her over the ice trays and that would have been the end of all our troubles. But you know exactly what kind of world we live in. It ain't no fucking Middle-earth. I just nodded my head, said, See you around, Lola, and drove home.”

“She is sixteen and her skin is the darkness before the black [better than Chandler's above?], the plum of the day’s light, her breasts like sunsets trapped beneath her skin, but for all her youth and beauty she has a sour distrusting expression that only dissolves under the weight of immense pleasure. Her dreams are spare, lack the propulsion of a mission, her ambition is without traction. Her fiercest hope? That she will find a man. What she doesn’t yet know: the cold, the backbreaking drudgery of the factorias, the loneliness of Diaspora, that she will never again live in Santo Domingo, her own heart. What else she doesn’t know: that the man next to her would end up being her husband and the father of her two children, that after two years together he would leave her, her third and final heartbreak, and she would never love again.” [Compare to Chandler's paws in the air.]

Chandler's world had "one white dude to rule them all"--Phillip Marlowe, who knew some Spanish and some mexicanos. Chandler wrote pulp, knew it, maybe sometimes regretted it, but that was how his U.S. was and how he worked it.

Junot works the other side of the alley, the immigrant dominicano better read than described, by me anyway. My point to using him is to get to unas migas of DanielJosé [from Half-Resurrection]:

"I dip into a brightly lit tobacco store for some Malagueñas and a pocket-sized rum. The rum goes into my flask and one of the Malagueñas goes into my mouth. I light it, walk back out to the street, and weave through the crowds. When I move quickly, no one notices my strange gait or the long wooden cane I use to favor my right leg. I've gotten the flow down so smooth I almost glide along toward the milky darkness of Prospect Park. There's too much information here in the streets--each passing body gives up a whole symphony of smells and memories and genetics. It can help pass the time if you're bored, but tonight, I'm far from bored.
     Tonight I am hunting." [There's a gist of the plot, prosaically.]

"I make a grunty-affirmative noise. When they send me after a normal ol' fully dead ghost, it's usually to toss their translucent asses back into Hell or, when they're really acting out, slice 'em to the Deeper Death. That means they're gone-for-good gone, not just kinda-sorta gone. It takes some getting used to, yeah, but you figure, hey--they were already dead once. Not everyone comes back even as a spook, so they had that second chance and jacked it up by playing the fool. The final good-bye ain't that big a deal in that sense. But this one . . . this strange, gray-like-me man with his wild schemes and last-gasp poetics . . . his death hasn't left me since New Year's.
     Neither has his sister's perfect smile." [More about the plot.]

"The feeling follows us down the block, even lingers as a dull whisper while we trudge up the creaking steps at Mama Esther's. Then we enter the library, the only room in the entire house with any furniture, and everything's all right again. There aren't even shelves, just stacks and stacks of books from floor to ceiling. You'd think it'd be a chaotic mess, all packed in there like that, but somehow there's a harmony to it; the books seem almost suspended in midair. They're everywhere, and the room is wide and tall enough that it doesn't feel cluttered. If I don't clean my little spot in more than a week, it starts to close in on me, so how Esther keeps this utterly full room spacious is beyond me. Some ghost shit, I suppose. Either way, it's oddly comforting.
     Esther's floating in her usual spot right in the center of the room. That's where the head is anyway. Beneath that great girthy smile, her wide body stretches out into invisibility in a way that lets you know she's got the whole house tucked within those fat ghostly folds. "Boys." She nods at us; the warmth of that smile is a sunbath after the grimness of the ngk." [To learn about the ngk, read the book; they're more than "imps."]

Maybe all that my selections prove is that I'm horible at examples. But if you want easy quippy, go pulpy Chandler. If you want Junot, go Junot. But if you want refreshing, street-smooth, page-flowing noir and Latino spec--ungenred--go DanielJosé.

Publisher's synopsis of Half-Resurrected: "Carlos Delacruz is one of the New York Council of the Dead’s most unusual agents—an inbetweener, partially resurrected from a death he barely recalls suffering, after a life that’s missing from his memory. He thinks he is one of a kind—until he encounters other entities walking the fine line between life and death.
     "One inbetweener is a sorcerer. He’s summoned a horde of implike ngks capable of eliminating spirits, and they’re spreading through the city like a plague. They’ve already taken out some of NY Council of the Dead’s finest, leaving Carlos desperate to stop their master before he opens up the entrada to the Underworld—which would destroy the balance between the living and the dead.
     "But in uncovering this man’s identity, Carlos confronts the truth of his own life—and death."

Quién sabe whether DanielJosé wrote this synopsis, but it leaves me flojo-limp. A plot synopsis goes weak, not providing the reader much hint of the powerful writing within. On a better day, minus a hangover, when I was young-sharp, I'd'a shot higher. But maybe that's just me. Decide whether to purchase the book, by a read of half a random page; the sucker flows más suave than Carlos glides through las calles de la Nueva.

Las embras who couldn't get past Yunior's mujeriego to read Oscar Wao, can enjoy Carlos, however gray his half-deadness, which incidentally doesn't reek of morbidity. There's love, of a different kind because it's of a different world. Yemaya's.

The man paved the way for our spanglishes.
Here's una cosa I wonder about DanielJosé's work that Junot carried to the penultimate: the novel's boriqua Spanish is light, however great the sabor--sporadic, casi. Junot blew the lid off the exclusionary Anglo-English-ceiling with a major body-slam [yeah, so sue me for metaphorical mix] that USican audiences are ready for bestsellers profuse with nuestra lengua (or at least can pretend to be, entering gentry bistros with Oscar Wao tucked in their man-purse). I'd prefer more lengua boriqua from DanielJosé. Maybe he was testing the literary waters. Maybe that's simplemente his voice, at the moment. Yo no sé, but I'll ask.

DON'T buy or shoplift Half-Resurrection expecting Yvonne Navarro-horror. DanielJosé doesn't try to gore your groin or twang your things-under-the-bed neuroses. He shoots for lifting our sorry-ass, neglected literary intellects to invented realms of noir experience. Think--Yunior the immigrant wandering through women to find no truths, brutalized by colonialist reality, except in Carlos's case, supernatural navigation is what-we-do, and do fairly well. To plug myself, my Chicano protagonist got bounced around the walls of his alternate-world, trying to escape. Carlos is sophisticated enough to chill in his mundo and fulfill his mission. It's a wild, enjoyable, funk-ride to get there. I recommend you take it. Later, you might be lucky enough to see it on-screen.

This pic is an Anika Noni-reminder
One note about that. The film, the TV series, the whatever, might become the next blockbuster, but it will fail like a blind, Carlos-crippled m-f-er the further it meanders from DanielJosé's prose. Sure his dialogue rules, and, not that I know jack about movie directing, but por favor, Anika Noni, consider employing an off-screen narrator, a la Anthony Mendez of Jane the Virgin. En serio, Esa, that's where the art breathes.

A last great lesson I learned from my read of Half-Resurrection pertains to the mierda about genre. How especially Latino authors bitch and moan and wonder more where their work will be slotted. Chuck that. This novels tells me, "Dump the rules, slaughter the bookstores' shelves-by-genre and publishers' imprint guidelines. Write your art. Speak yourself. Give your readers what you want. Let the accolades fall as far from you as they care to. Then again, you might just be more than noticed, and then get hit with a goddamn-the-dude's-unfairly-lucky TV/movie option.

Best author profile ever

Not that I compare--yet--to DanielJosé, but Latin Post features an author profile on me that I believe you might enjoy, un montón, however strange some of the revelations. I'd appreciate your leaving comments there to justify my existence on its pages. With enough readers doing so, I might be asked for a return engagement. Gracias.

Next This year, en Havana

Whoever reads this and owns a yacht, meet me in Matamoros and I'll bring the Negra Modelos and we'll head to La Isla, before all the turistas invade. Me tengo que ir, este año. Or, a lo menos, before me muero. ITM, if you're in AridZona next week, La Bloga's amigo Tom Miller is one of the panelists. Miller knows more about Cuba than anyone but Fidel. Wishing I could be in either locale:

Es todo, hoy,
RudyG, a.k.a., part-time cheerleader for Half-Resurrection, in case you missed that,
and Chicano fantasy author Rudy Ch. Garcia who creates equally strange worlds

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