In Other Words

Faith and Fat Chances by Carla Tru­jillo

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO - — Casey Sanchez

In the fic­tional Santa Fe barrio of Dogtown, wily, hard­scrab­ble lo­cals must de­fend their quirky com­mu­nity against busi­ness and political in­ter­ests who want to level their com­mu­nity and put a high- end win­ery in its place. But there’s a twist. The vil­lain spear­head­ing the wine pro­ject is a prodigal His­pano son, re­turned from ur­ban Cal­i­for­nia ready and will­ing to dis­place his own fam­ily to get what he wants. In re­sponse, the an­gry res­i­dents of Dogtown don’t just or­ga­nize and ag­i­tate — they get su­per­nat­u­ral.

Step­ping well be­yond her daily rou­tine of limpias and read­ings, the lo­cal cu­ran­dera dusts off her most po­tent herbs and venge­ful spells, re­cruit­ing a mys­te­ri­ous young man who seems to be able to sum­mon na­ture it­self, if suf­fi­ciently pro­voked. Mean­while, an artsy gay Latina takes mat­ters into her own hands. She ditches her earthy out­fits for high heels and fake eye­lashes, vamp­ing and flirt­ing her way into the con­fi­den­tial cir­cle of the town’s mayor, all the while tal­ly­ing up his se­crets and weak­nesses to be used against him. The re­sult is some­thing like The Mi­la­gro Bean­field

War meets Bless Me, Ul­tima, set in a neigh­bor­hood that’s es­sen­tially a proxy for what re­mains of the City Dif­fer­ent’s work­ing-class Chi­cano bo­hemia. The novel is the lat­est of­fer­ing from Carla Tru­jillo, whose last novel was 2003’s What Night Brings — a blis­ter­ing bil­dungsro­man set in 1960s North­ern Cal­i­for­nia that fol­lows a young girl re­belling against in­grained machismo and Catholic pro­pri­ety. The de­but novel won the Miguel Már­mol Prize for best first work of fic­tion by a Latino/a writer, the Latino Book Award for fic­tion, and the Pater­son Fic­tion Prize.

In re­cent in­ter­views, Tru­jillo has said Faith and

Fat Chances was par­tially in­spired by her own child­hood ex­pe­ri­ences grow­ing up in Las Ve­gas, New Mex­ico, when a de­vel­oper used em­i­nent do­main to wipe out her grand­mother’s cor­ner gro­cery store. De­spite the sad real-life ori­gins of this fic­tion al novel, Tru­jillo in­jects quite a bit of hu­mor into the rowdy crew of Santa Feans. In one scene, Pepa the cu­ran­dera and Camilo, her mys­te­ri­ous pro­tégé, con­vince the neigh­bor­hood priest to al­low them to burn a new type of herb dur­ing a mass ad­dress­ing the win­ery de­vel­op­ment. In­stead of be­ing hyp­notic, the in­cense is a deep seda­tive, and the Catholic mass soon be­comes an em­bar­rass­ing mass nap.

The con­ver­sa­tions be­tween slightly butch girl­friends Tala and Nina, as the lat­ter dolls her­self up in wigs and miniskirts for her un­der­cover gig, are price­less — as is the dread Tru­jillo con­jures up be­tween adult sib­lings Tala and Gil­bert Cor­dova when they at­tempt civil con­ser­va­tion over her brother’s busi­ness plan to de­stroy the neigh­bor­hood in which they were raised.

But Tru­jillo writes a con­vinc­ing por­trait of the city’s in­creas­ingly marginal­ized work­ing-class neigh­bor­hoods, where roots run deep and prob­lems—both crim­i­nal and so­cial—tend to be dealt with in­ter­nally, lest they at­tract the at­ten­tion of po­lice, tourists, the wealthy, or any­one else who would fail to fully un­der­stand them. Tru­jillo’s ear for New Mex­ico Span­glish is ex­cel­lent. Un­like its loan­word-happy Cal­i­for­nia strain (“Pues, likearme en Face­book”), New Mex­ico Span­glish tends to insert whole strings of stan­dard Span­ish phrases into English­language con­ver­sa­tion. An­other as­pect of the novel that is wor­thy of at­ten­tion is how Nina and Tala, the les­bian cou­ple at the cen­ter of the plot, are fully in­te­grated into their fam­i­lies and com­mu­nity. While we may live in an age where books and movies abound with con­fi­dent gay cou­ples, few come from the side of tracks de­picted in this book. Tru­jillo’s por­trait of two women of color com­mit­ted to each other, who run busi­nesses and shoul­der sig­nif­i­cant risks to de­fend their com­mu­ni­ties while re­main­ing trusted mem­bers of their ex­tended blue-col­lar fam­i­lies, is a nar­ra­tive sorely lack­ing in the me­dia land­scape. It’s worth re­mem­ber­ing that the other lit­er­ary ac­com­plish­ments for which Tru­jillo has been justly awarded is for her work as an editor of Chi­cana Les­bians: The Girls Our Moth­ers Warned Us About (Third Woman Press) and Liv­ing Chi­cana The­ory (Third Woman Press), two an­tholo­gies that have re­mained in hu­man­i­ties grad school ro­ta­tion since be­ing first pub­lished in the 1990s. Un­like Tru­jillo’s pre­vi­ous work, Faith and Fat

Chances has a feel-good end­ing that man­ages to unite Pepa and Camilo’s su­per­nat­u­ral striv­ings with the in­creas­ingly risky and bizarre un­der­cover life Nina leads at City Hall with Rolo, Santa Fe’s boor­ish mayor. A sub­plot in­volv­ing nu­clear ra­di­a­tion ex­po­sure in the 1940s at the Los Alamos Na­tional Lab­o­ra­tory never goes any­where, but per­haps that’s the point. As Santa Feans strive for so­cial jus­tice, it may be the au­thor’s in­sis­tent re­minder that the nu­clear con­tam­i­na­tion of the past is an is­sue far too vast to ig­nore and far too in­grained to truly ad­dress. What we can do, the au­thor in­sists, is or­ga­nize our com­mu­ni­ties, de­fend our fam­i­lies, and fall back on the old spir­i­tual folk­ways of our an­ces­tors.

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