Page 15


RAY GONZAL,EZ Country and along the muddy wash of the Rio Grande. Its creatures are the lizards, snakes, scorpions and domesticated animals possessed, like totems, of primitive, supernatural powers. He fuses the history, memory and folklore of both countries and creates a psychedelic mythology replete with UFOs, la migra, the smell of burning flesh, Day-Glo poster art and mescal obsession. As a result, his stories are often compared to myths and, like myths, must be accepted on faith. In The Apparition we are asked to believe in miracles that crop up in very ordinary places, the bathroom, for example: Carlos, the protagonist, “glanced at the plastic shower curtain stretched across the tub,The face of la Virgen was illuminated on the curtain. As a result of his bathroom discovery, almost five hundred people had trampled through Carlos’s house in two weeks_ His shower curtain had been famous for fourteen days.” Gonzalez generally uses magical realism to comment on the nature of faith, lost opportunity, self -revelation and human relationships, But in The Ghost of John Wayne, he juxtaposes everyday life with the slightly stare= al in an attempt to question widely accepted historic fact. Unlike most of the other stories in this collectionInvisible Country is also an exception the title story is clearly political in nature. A psychic is called in to search the Alamo for John Wayne’s ghost, but in the course of his investigation uncovers disconcerting lies and omissions in official interpretations involving Mexican-American relations. The narrator, a writer greatly disconcerted by the psychic’s find, questions the perpetuation of fabrication over fact, only to be told: “It would change history and people don’t want that.” In other words, the general public will always opt for the Hollywood version over the true one. When that oc_ ;,;.,cory comes case, John Wayne’s ghost., This, without a doubt, is one of the most effective stories in the lot. \(However, the author could easily have dispensed with the last seven paragraphs, which tend to distract us from the gist of the If in The Ghost of John Wayne he tends to drag out the ending unnecessarily, elsewhere he ends the story too soon, denying the reader a chance to connect fully with the characters and the events, thus loci his chance to deliver th-it final 1, .ock-out wow. At least half a dozen tales left me dangling, and not for lack of trying: The Jalapeno Contest, The Properties of Mrwic, and How the Brqio Stole the Moon are among them. In the latter we are told that the local witch wishes to possess the moon, is possessed instead for reasons we are unable to fathom, and disappears. An ending like that leaves me feeling as if the electric power had gone out during a movie. In this case, I couldn’t help but ask myself whether this was the writer’s failure or my own. But I tend to believe some of the stories are just too pat, too obscure, lack development and specificity. I was reminded of the Captain Marvel or Mandrake the Magician comic strips, which I loved as a child. I loved them for their wild improbability and for their loopy energy. I was willing to indulge my imagination and perform daring leaps of faith. No longer. As an adult I require, if not logic and coherence, at least the ability to relate to the story on some level, a figurative one, perhaps. I have since learned that Gonzalez began to write as a child, inspired by the comic books he read. \(I wonder if he ever came across Mandrake the fantasy still cling to these pages, capable of exercising the same mes merizing hold on the reader. \(Just try putting down one of these stories in you will return to your favorites again and again. For me, the test of a good story lies in its ability to haunt me long after I’ve stopped reading. I need to walk away from what I read with some trace of it still clinging to me like chalk dust clings to fingers or lint to wool. If that’s what you look for in a story, you will not be disappointed. The best of these are capable of doing precisely that. Diana Anhalt is a poet and writer in Mexico City. She is the author 4 A Gathering of Fugitives: American Political Expatriates in Mexico 19481965 5124102 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 19