You Must Fight Them: A Novella and Sto­ries

Univer­sity of New Mexico Press, 191 pages

Pasatiempo - - IN OTHER WORDS - by Maceo Montoya,

For stick­ing to his re­al­ist guns and set­ting much of his novella of young love, in­ter­rupted, in a Mervyn’s depart­ment store, Maceo Montoya de­serves some se­ri­ous props. A na­tive of Cal­i­for­nia’s Cen­tral Val­ley, the Chi­cano au­thor must know that the now-de­funct Mervyn’s once catered to an emerg­ing Latino mid­dle class by open­ing stores near His­panic neigh­bor­hoods and run­ning Span­ish-lan­guage ad cam­paigns.

It is Mervyn’s where the novella’s un­named nar­ra­tor first heads af­ter re­turn­ing home to Wood­land, Cal­i­for­nia, af­ter four alien­at­ing years at an East Coast Ivy League col­lege. Awk­ward in his own white skin and cul­tur­ally con­flicted over his half-Mex­i­can an­ces­try, the nar­ra­tor has never quite found a cul­ture or a city to call home. He hopes a history doc­tor­ate at UC Davis will change that.

In the depart­ment store, he barely makes it past the shoe counter be­fore run­ning into his un­re­quited high-school flame. De­spite her pantsuit and as­sis­tant man­ager name tag, Lupita Valdez is just the girl he re­mem­bered — thick lashes, al­mond-shaped eyes, and golden brown skin set off by jan­gly bracelets and hoop ear­rings. The big re­veal? De­spite spend­ing ju­nior and se­nior year as the girl­friend of the high school’s reign­ing vato ath­lete, Lupita has a thing for book­ish guys. She nursed a se­cret, painful crush on the un­named nar­ra­tor for years.

The cou­ple’s plan to re­meet cute and carry on gets driven un­der­ground by a blood oath sworn by Lupita’s three se­ri­ously thugged­out broth­ers. Un­der their pact, Lupita, well into her twen­ties, can only date a man who has sur­vived fight­ing all of them at once. The oath has its ori­gins in a gos­sipy slut-sham­ing of Lupita in mid­dle school, and has long since passed from pro­tect­ing fam­ily honor to pathol­o­giz­ing sib­ling re­la­tions. Only men with a near-death wish would con­tem­plate it. In the shad­ows, Lupita has had to carry out a ro­man­tic life that os­cil­lates be­tween celibacy and se­crecy.

Choos­ing to weather the risks, Lupita and her PhD-seek­ing suitor pur­sue a se­cre­tive cou­ple­dom, con­duct­ing their af­fair at Mervyn’s cor­po­rate train­ing week­ends in San Fran­cisco. Their few public dates take place in the most yup­pi­fied neigh­bor­hoods of Davis and Wal­nut Creek, the bet­ter to avoid en­coun­ter­ing any­one from Lupita’s cir­cle of work­ing­class fam­ily and friends.

As Mervyn’s heads for bank­ruptcy, the cou­ple falls apart as well. But the story is far from over. Years pass; the nar­ra­tor dates other women, and Lupita passes the time with a neigh­bor­hood hulk pre-ap­proved by her broth­ers. But the ex-cou­ple’s love has never gone away, even if they have agreed never to see each other again. What comes next doesn’t fit into ei­ther a tragic de­noue­ment or a happy end­ing, but the lovers get what they de­serve, at last run­ning head­long into what they have been avoid­ing.

Montoya writes with a marvelous econ­omy of prose, pars­ing com­edy and pathos only para­graphs apart. With slightly dif­fer­ent mar­ket­ing, this could have been a killer young-adult novel, even if the pro­tag­o­nists are closer to thirty than fresh­man year in high school. It’s not as epic or as laugh-out-loud funny as his last novel, The De­por­ta­tion of Wop­per Bar­raza (UNM Press, 2014), which fol­lowed a ne’er-do-well Mex­i­can im­mi­grant as a de­por­ta­tion for a fourth DUI forces him back to a ru­ral Mexico he barely knows. But in its re­al­ism about the dev­as­tat­ing strength of fam­ily ties and the ten­u­ous­ness of ro­man­tic pas­sion, You Must Fight Them isa wise and en­ter­tain­ing tale. — Casey Sanchez

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.