Page 27


True St. Fu Although the story is simple, the structure is more coinplex, moving back and forth between sequences involving Leonora, which take place in the past, prior to Aura’s birth, and Aura’s accounts, written as a youngster many years later. Only toward the end of the book do the two time frames converge. The writer allows us to distinguish between time sequences and voices through her use of chapter titles. All chapters preceded by the title Some things were overheard and some said it was all a rumor recount Leonora’s story in the third person, interspersed with the voice she hears “like prayers” in her head. She has been taught never to speak what she thinks because this will give her power. “One never knows what God is thinking.” Her internal voice is indicated by italics: We know how to be quiet. Our thoughts are whispers. Shhhhhhhh. Chapters entitled Every leaf is a mouth are also written in the first person, but are narrated by Aura, whose name echoes her mother’s. “[Leonora] Says that I am a broom child just as she is,” she writes. “She thinks we are dark like tree bark and that our arms look like branches and our fingers look like twigs.” Leonora tells Aura that she realizes a leaf is like a hand “with veins and everything. I knew then that trees were like people, only very quiet. And once, when there was a lot of wind, the tree was crying. I realized that the leaves were also mouths.” Clement weaves together psalms, vernacular, Mexican folk songs, and highly evocative imagery. She skillfully combines poetry and prose; her use of rhythm, refrain, and repetition pulls the reader along like an undertow, adding a sense of urgency. A True Story sounds, at times, like liturgy, but occasionally reminds us of the soap operas that all the women in the household watch, seated together on the edge of the bed in the servant’s room. Nonetheless, the overall effect comes closer to Greek tragedy in which a ritual limpia or cleansing, rather than a Delphic oracle seals Leonora’s fate. As in Greek tragedy, well disposed soulsin this case the “kitchen chorus” composed of Sofia, the cook, a purveyor of popular lore and a voice of moderation, and, to a lesser extent, Josefa, the housemaidattempt to protect her and avert disaster. We sometimes believe they will, because the rumors and liesthe lies referred to in the titlemake it possible for us to doubt the resolution. But as a series of violent acts foreshadow the inevitable tragedy, we come to realize the outcome is beyond the control of mere mortals. Like poetry A True Story can be read on many different levels. It welcomes incursions into the treacherous swamp of symbolic interpretation, and one must take care not to read too much into it. But a superficial examination will reveal that one of the book’s central concerns is the make-up of Mexican society and the conflicts it engenders: Leonora represents ancient Mexico and a mystical world view. She is at one with nature, in contrast to O’Conner, who represents foreign influence. He is a provocateur; she is the recipient or victim of the provocation. He is rational, rather than mystic, and at odds with nature. \(As a child he was slashed by a branch and an ugly scar disfigures nature and in particular the women, Leonora and his wife, Lourdes. The latter believes her husband’s infidelities have contaminated her: She carries his lovers inside her and hears their voices and reads their thoughts. Aura, the product of the union between O’Conner and Leonora, combines her father’s European rationalism with her mother’s Indian mysticism. She lives in a body thatquite literallyis at war with itself, a symbol of modern Mexico. In thinking about Clement’s novel, I began to form another image of Mexico: the country as a rug. I can see the author bending down and lifting the corner of that rug to reveal the litter hidden underneathresignation in face of suffering, violence, poverty, superstition, wisdom and magic. She uses a pen instead of a broom. It scratches across the page. Dry, brittle sound. A rasp and scrape without vowels. A long shhhhhhhhh. Her poet’s voice sounds like sweeping. Diana Anhalt is a poet and writer in Mexico City. The author of A Gathering of Fugitives: American Political Expatriates in Mexico 11/8/02 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 27