Sunday, October 23, 2016

Reading Wendy Ortiz' Bruja: A Bewitching Memoir in Dreams

Olga García Echeverría

Anything can happen in a dream. Anything can happen in Bruja. Cats multiply and scurry; sharks lurk in lakes; an ocean wave floods a living room one minute and then becomes a calm ripple the next.

When reading Bruja, the left brain may initially resist. Mine wanted to grasp onto something concrete, ground itself in characters, in familiar narrative structure. Every time I tried to find my footing in Wendy Ortiz's dreamscapes I heard a bruja laughing at me in the background because, really, how does one ground herself in the elusive and magical nature of dreams?

The woman moved to help me, until we realized the door was just too small for the doorway.
She then offered me a plate. On the plate lay a pair of green and yellow striped gloves, fried.

Instead of looking for anchors, I realized pretty quickly that reading Bruja is like stepping into a Remedios Varo painting. Sensational. Surreal.

Remedios Varo: "Creation of the Birds"

As a reader, one has to shift paradigms in Bruja. This is, after all, a highly unique type of memoir--a dreamoir--where the physical upright world as we know it is ruptured. Scenes hang loosely like unhinged picture frames or windows. Each passage in Ortiz's book is a portal into the dream realm where everything eventually bleeds into the wonderfully strange and otherworldly.

The woman didn't seem fazed by her third leg, which loped along in the middle of her other two
legs. She could even make it dance by itself while the other two legs were unmoving.

In Bruja, borders between mundos are blurred, spaces collapse, time melts like a warped clock in a Salvador Dali painting. 

Salvador Dali: "The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory"

While reading Ortiz, the constant rupturing of time and space reminded me of two of my favorite Latin American writers, Julio Cortázar and Juan Rulfo.

Rulfo once said of the structure of his classic novel Pedro Páramo, “It is a structure made of silences, of hanging threads, of cut scenes, where everything occurs in a simultaneous time which is no-time.”

Juan Rulfo: "Fan de la cultura"

A similar structure of hanging threads exists in Bruja, yet whereas Rulfo's “no-time” drifts between the worlds of the living and the dead, in Bruja everything operates on dream-time.

Like Bruja, Cortázar's acclaimed short story, “La Noche Boca Arriba” or “The Night Face Up,” also occurs on dream-time. Cortázar's story is about a man on a motorcycle who gets into a bad accident and is transported to a hospital. While laying on an operating table face up, he fades in and out of a dream, where he is a Moteca Indian in another century, fleeing the Aztecs who want to sacrifice him. The borders between the “real world” and the dream realm are progressively blurred in the story until finally the man wakes to realize that what he perceived as dream is real and what he thought was real is merely a dream. Cortázar loves to mess with our brains in these fantastic ways, and so does Ortiz.

Julio Cortazar

Yet what blew my mind about Bruja is that unlike the protagonist in "La Noche Boca Arriba," the dreamer/narrator in Ortiz' book isn't crossing over from one reality to another. Actually, the “real” physical world is entirely absent in this book. I think Cortázar would totally dig this element in Bruja, since the “real world” exists not in the imagination of the protagonist, but rather only in the imagination of the reader. Glimpses of “the real world” may be present in the crooks and crevices of the dreams themselves, for it is difficult to read dreams without trying to interpret them or imagine from where they stem, but the dreamer in Bruja resides exclusively on the Other Side; dreams are her home, and we the readers are visitors to her most intimate life in rem.

I gave birth to a baby girl.
     I was at my mother's house. I was dressed in a white half-slip and long-sleeved white silk shirt.
     A cat asked me if I would nurse her.
     I knew it was weird. I looked around. I could find a private place. I said yes.
     In my childhood bedroom, I situated the cat on one breast and the little girl on the other. I called
the little girl "Lupita."

Much like the concept of negative space in art, where bringing the background (usually the unseen) to the forefront gives new shape and meaning to objects, the dreams in Bruja helped me form an "invisible" narrative as I read. It wasn't explicitly there on the page, this narrative, but it was being shaped by the details of Ortiz' dreams. I'm not sure if the author did this purposefully or if it happened organically because of the nature of dreams, but either way it was a total mind trip and an entirely new literary experience for me. I imagine every reader will construct this invisible narrative differently, depending on her/his own reading experience and interpretations.

The Art of Negative Space: Edgar Rubin's Famous Vase

Despite the absence of “the real world” in Bruja, patterns emerge and we get a sense of “her,” our narrator and dreamer.  We know she's got a thing for cats. She's got a strong backbone and a rebel streak. There may be a Catholic uniform in this dreamer's backpack, but watch out because she's also carrying a bomb. Although she's nebulous and ever-shifting, she's a sexual being with a sense of humor. In one dream she refuses to accept Jesus Christ as her son because she reasons that this would mean she's a virgin and that would mean no sex—hell no, no way, she says, Jesus cannot be her son.

In dreamscape after dreamscape, we see the narrator journeying, taking risks, taking charge (these are qualities I like in a woman character, regardless of what genre or realm she dwells in). The invisible narrative of the physical world begins to flesh out, not in a chronological or even a logical way, but in fragments. When the dreamer stabs her mother repeatedly while her mother smiles, I conjured up possible mama-drama threads. Maybe a dream is just a dream, but I started to  imagine the “real-time” and “real-spaces” that may have birthed/influenced certain scenarios. Take the following dream on borders, for instance. I couldn't read this dream without conjuring up the possible “real-world” threads (and threats) that may have nurtured it.

The United States had closed all of its borders.
     I was in a hotel room when I found out, on the east coast, near the Canadian border.
     There was a government man in a blue suit charged with calming large crowds of people. He told us that we cold not leave the country and, in fact, we could not got anywhere but the immediate area.
     The crowd protested among itself. We could not believe this turn of events. I said aloud, Perhaps we can go underwater and declare water sovereign. I was half-joking. 
     At the Canadian border, a woman read a prepared statement telling us why we could not cross. It was clear from the way she held her mouth tensely as she read that she had not written it herself. 
     A number of us in the crowd protested her outright. In the small swell of panic, I contemplated what I would do—set fires, burn my way out of the country.

Bruja is a bewitching jigsaw dreamoir that invites us to navigate a terrain full of gaps and sudden shifts. What is usually in the background, in the shadows, in the subconscious, rises to the surface and takes center stage. When I first started reading Bruja, I found myself asking, "What is this?" Yet, despite this "unsettling" element (like wandering in the dark), Wendy Ortiz's sueños reeled me in like a hooked fish. The book is 329 pages long, and although I hadn't intended to, I read it all in one night.The unique structure and premise of Bruja threw me for a literary loop and it did what, in my opinion, good literature does; it took me to new, unexpected and exciting places, both on the page and in my imagination. 

When I finished the book, I lay on my bed face up covered in dream dust, my brain in a pretzel. I felt haunted. Eerie wonderful thoughts floated like colorful fish all around me. Maybe the world as I knew it wasn't really real. Maybe Remedios Varo had invented me with a few brush strokes. Maybe Juan Rulfo was hanging invisible threads over my head, dream catchers. Maybe Cortázar was blowing cigarette smoke my way, laughing at my suspended reality. Maybe Ortiz had flung her web of words out into the world again and cast her spell. Yes, that was it. Wendy Ortiz. Bewitching word bruja indeed. 

Remedios Varo Wearing A Mask. Also, Me After Reading Bruja.

Release Date: October 31, 2016

To pre-order Bruja:

Publisher: CCM  and Publisher's Bruja Press Release

Bruja Book Launch With Special Guests

Sunday, November 6, 2016

5:00 - 7:00 PM
Skylight Books
1818 N. Vermont
Los Angeles, CA 90027

Special Guests:

Henry Hoke

Ashley Perez
Iris De Anda
Amanda Yates Garcia
Myriam Gurba

For more info on the Bruja Book Launch:

To read a previous La Bloga interview with Wendy Ortiz:

Wendy C. Ortiz is the author of Excavation: A Memoir (Future Tense Books, 2014), and Hollywood Notebook (Writ Large Press, 2015) and the forthcoming Bruja (CCM, 2016). Her work has been profiled or featured in the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles Review of Books, The Rumpus, and the National Book Critics Circle Small Press Spotlight blog. Her writing has appeared in such places as The New York Times, Hazlitt, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, The Nervous Breakdown, Fanzine and a year-long series appeared at McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. Wendy lives in Los Angeles. Visit & her public notebook at

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