“Fairly shinunerfsl with the warmth, tones, and language of the Southwest. Attuvmj of the women who populated her childhood summers in West Texas. In the end, she attempts to come to terms with her place among them: The turning plaster waves revealed my sisters, my mother, my cousins, my friends, their nude forms, halfdressed, hanging out, lumpish, lovely, unaware of self in rest rooms, in dressing rooms, in the many stalls and theaters in this life…I was the monitor of women’s going forth. Behind the mirror, eyes half-closed, I saw myself the cloud princess. It’s moments like this when the tone of a memoir becomes perceptible. While in the introduction Chavez warns us against reading the stories as autobiographical, what these stories often offer is not only the portrait of a young woman, but the portrait of an artist as a young woman. Rocio again and again voices her longing to both live in this world, to peer deeply at it, and to be swept away by it. And it’s that older, more experienced voice easing us into these emotions which is so solid, trustworthy, and so terribly funny. In these stories, set mostly in New Mexico and West Texas, Chavez employs her innate sense of place to create a kind of heightened intimacy with her audience. This is to say she takes nothing for granted, and paints for her readers very specific landscapes that defy the common, often romantic, assumptions about life in the Desert Southwest. While there is always a reverential tone here, I never get the sense Chavez is relying on clichs to situate us in this landscape, both physical and cultural. She is relentlessly specific, most often humorously so, in revealing to us neighborhoods like Chiva Town, Little Oklahoma, Brown City. She offers fresh insight into smalltown life in places like Marfa, the sun bitten faces of the old, the inner workings of hospital life, the various sorrows and odors of the old and the dying. She talks of an unforgiving heat, the death of numerous cherished trees, and the innocent beginnings of what has now become the scourge of urban sprawl. She elegizes a front door. She captures a time. She brings to life communities in flux, examines the clash of class and race, and never shies away from getting at anything less than a character’s full, often fully troubled, personhood. She paints a truly complicated portrait of a mother, husbandless, and her relationship with her three daughters. The men in these stories are made present by their absence, physical or emotional. It is exciting to come into contact with writing this fresh and heartening, especially now, when the honesty and humanity of voices like Chavez’s are being duplicated and tenderized to the point of kitschiness. Believe me, this is the real thing: a voice for which we are already nostalgic: heartening, hilarious, human. Carrie Fountain is a 2004 graduate of the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas-Austin. Originally from New Mexico, she now lives in Austin. 8/13/04 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 33
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