Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Running Alone in photographs: A Novel by Robert Mirabal

I have followed Robert Mirabal's music for years now. I saw both he and bother Patrick (see below) in concert. I'd read Robert's poem, "They Survive" in Po'pay: Leader of the First American Revolution. Now Robert Mirabal has written a novel, Running Alone in photographs, that reads like a combination of his music and poetry.

Reyes Kristina Wind is a young American Indian Woman from Santa Teresa Pueblo in New Mexico, an artist who lives for her music and travels the world on a quest for something she can't quite name and from which alcohol and drugs will not provide escape. She never knew her father––a vet whose soul was destroyed in Vietnam––hardly knows her mother––who spent most of her life searching after her lost love––but she has an advantage over many of the other Pueblo youth she knows. She was raised by traditional grandparents who taught her to love the land and the things that grow in it.

The entire novel is framed in a few hours of Reyes' memories after returning to Santa Teresa for her grandmother's funeral. One imagines that Santa Teresa serves as a stand-in for Mirabal's home of Taos––once a haven for artists, then hippies, and now a tourist attraction––and Reyes, at times, serves as Mirabal's alter ego providing that much more depth and truth to the story.

This is a very interior novel, but in the tradition of American Indian writing that explores connections with the natural world that surrounds us. Anyone who has read my blogs knows I love Native American literature for the beautiful language and imagery that seems to come naturally to a culture with a story-telling tradition. Mirabal's prose is no exception. There were just a few spots where he seemed to fall into stream of consciousness, and in those few instances I had trouble picking up the thread. However, over all, this is a beautiful story told in beautiful prose and I am looking forward to reading more from Robert Mirabal if he can miraculously find the time in his busy career.

Couldn't resist adding these photos. Below I pose with Patick Mirabal in 2007 (I'm on the right and I've lost a few pounds since then).

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Nothing Right

Provided free from Amazon Vine
Okay, then, this collection makes a great follow-up to my post about stories that appear in The New Yorker because the stories in this collection that didn't appear in that magazine should have. Antonya Nelson's work here typifies that group of elite literary writers these days who appear to write more for each other than for a larger audience. One imagines that the main characters in these stories are almost all either thinly disguised versions of the author or people from the circles in which she travels.

Just about every character here is middle class, hovering somewhere around 40, divorced or cheating or being cheated on or all three. The surrounding cast of characters may vary slightly in that the kids may be older or younger, well-behaved or delinquent, the lover's age might vary, but the main character appears over and over in a slightly––very slightly––different play.

Within this circle of writers I refer to above, cheating is such a matter of course that no motive need be given and only the slightest lip service is paid to guilt or angst. Husbands are, of course, non-descript beings who don't know how to "give". Supposedly mature women fall in and out of love like adolescents and regularly follow strange men to their homes or apartments without the slightest thought of ending up a naked corpse in a ditch somewhere.

The characters here are so frustratingly flat they remind me of Barbie dolls. You can buy Mermaid Barbie or Native American Barbie or Beach Barbie, but really they are all the same doll only wearing different clothes. That's the way these stories left me feeling.

To summarize, if you are one of those who reads The New Yorker each month waiting to see what new gem of literary fiction will be included, this collection is for you. If you are like me and puzzle most months over what, exactly, is supposed to make those stories so great, then give this one a pass.