La Maravilla (Alfredo Véa, Jr.)

At first, I had a hard time getting into this novel. Perhaps this is because I was trying to read it in 5-minute increments…. Anyway, once I dedicated a more significant amount of time to reading it, I really got into it. The world Véa created in this novel is so full of life — and so much of it revolves around the lives of people who don’t have a lot of money but who live their lives to the fullest possibility. Interestingly, the people who feature in this novel are people who are forgotten and ignored by the rest of society. They are the poor, the transsexuals, the disowned, the alcoholics, the unemployed, the emotionally unstable, the sexually abused, and just about every other kind of marginalized there is. Véa makes some complicated statements about the value our society places on certain kinds of lifestyles and on certain types of lives. In this case, his characters illustrate the beautiful things these undervalued people have to offer their fellow community members, and the tragedy of not recording their daily lives and wanderings. There’s a beautiful passage in here about the notes Boydeen (the reclusive court-reporter who lives in her basement room beneath the Rainbo Market and records everything within earshot on her machine) keeps: “If ever read, they would show that asphalt would eventually come to Buckeye Road, that the Blue Moon would burn down under suspicious circumstances. She would record Mr. Lee’s eventual loss of the Rainbo to an eminent domain action. She would type that he cried quietly on the porch, and the record would reflect that he spat on Gold Mountain. […] In the middle of the night, desperate mothers would come to the porch to pray and have it written. Young black nobodies from nowhere would walk together, hand in hand to the porch and say words to marry each other in writing, on this fringe of life. People with so little to have and so little time to have it would come to the porch and say their words to someone. […] Nothing within earshot of the Rainbo Market would go unchronicled. Anyone who wished to say a thing and have it kept could come to the porch and speak into the depths.” (184) I love this passage — it’s moving, and gets across the loss everyone suffers from not knowing about these people’s lives.

On another note, I love the way the world of the living fuzzes out into the world of the dead and the world of the undead. Worlds bleed into each other here — an Irishman’s ghost walks his dog, silently apologizing to everyone he encounters, J.B.’s ghost follows Vernetta around with the noose still around his neck, and Apache (Josephina’s dog) returns after a two- or three-year visit to the underworld. Cultures blend and melt together in Buckeye Road, and so do cultural beliefs and practices. African American residents of the town close their eyes and pick up their pace when they walk past the Mexican graveyard. Chinese convenience store owners honor debts to a Spanish curandera who’s married to a Yaqui elder. A white “Arkie” pines for her son (borne to a half-African American, half-Filipino father). Even Beto’s mother — half Yaqui, half Spanish — is in a relationship with a Filipino American. It’s a slice of a beautiful culture that exists from the mingling of multiple cultures…a dream idea of what America could be like, except that Buckeye Road is no dream. The people are so poor that half of them live in abandoned cars or drain pipes; many of the inhabitants are alcoholics, and about an equal number are prostitutes, whores, or transvestites; when a killing happens (not infrequently), bodies are left in the street until the authorities come to pin the blame on someone. It’s a place that will eventually be absorbed by Phoenix, but whose inhabitants have actively resisted that occurrence for a long time.

I’m eager to read more of Véa’s writings, especially since this one is so perfect for my dissertation project. Perhaps his other novels will also be really ripe with possibility, and my options will multiply….

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