Thursday, September 12, 2019

Chicanonautica: Through Space and Time with Mrs. Vargas and the Dead Naturalist

In my Goodreads review, I wrote: “Kathleen Alcalá brings Mexican/American worlds filled with wonderful characters to magical life, for all your senses.”

I had read a few of her stories in science fiction and fantasy anthologies, but they did not prepare me for this. This is not your usual genre writing. It is bigger than the usual categories. Maybe literature. Maybe this is the real mainstream.

The stories in Mrs. Vargas and the Dead Naturalist conjured up people and places who seemed familiar, like I already knew them. I found myself feeling nostalgic for places I’d never been. And not just with words, but multi-sensual experiences. I’d been to some of the locations, but didn’t live in a lot of the times.

This is beyond ordinary experience.

Kathleen Alcalá was born in Mexico, lived in Compton,  and grew up in San Bernardino, in California. I’m also a product of SoCal, but she’s classier than I’ll ever be.

She has a great feeling for the Latinx past. She wrote three novels set in the Nineteenth Century. Her work is often time travel, not as a theme, but in that it transports the reader into another time. 

Literary time travel, a kind of magic realism.

It could be called North American magic realism, but without the usual literary pretension of someone who took a class on Latin American Lit, and decided to write something like “Boar-Hays.” This comes naturally. From experience. Latinx experiences.

These experiences are beyond the usual fare of ethnic studies classes. It’s the usual barrio of the corporate imagination. These are places full of real people, that feel that I’ve met them, like maybe they’re long-lost relatives. More like things you would learn from listening to your abuelita over the years, and if you are lucky, they will come back to you, in her voice, years later, after she’s gone.

There are touches of the supernatural, but not in the popular horror/paranormal mode. Though fans of the genre would gain a lot from reading these stories.

It can make wall come crumbing down, borders disappear, and cause an infinity of new worlds to open up.

Ernest Hogan is the author of High Aztech, and will be judging Somos en’s Second Annual Extra-Fiction Contest: The deadline for submissions is September 30--what are you Latinx writers out there waiting for?

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