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Archive for the ‘acceptance’ Tag

Unknown but Not Invisible   2 comments

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The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez is a timely read with the issue of immigration never far beneath the political surface. Yet, the novel isn’t about politics, but people.

Arturo and Alma leave Mexico for Delaware because they want to do more for their teen-aged daughter, Maribel, who suffered a brain injury. They believe she’ll benefit in a better school. They’re not illegals; they have work visas. Each chapter is told from one of the character’s perspectives, some in greater detail than others; only never Maribel’s.

Woven in with the challenges of living in a new land with a new language is the relationship that develops between Maribel and Mayor.

Sixteen-year-old Mayor Toro lives in Maribel’s apartment building; his parents left Panama when he was less than a year old, but he’s never fit in.  From Mayor’s perspective, Henriquez writes: “The truth was that I didn’t know which I was. I wasn’t allowed to claim the thing I felt and I didn’t feel the thing I was supposed to claim (Panamanian).”

This sums up the experience of those introduced in the book. Henriquez has created a montage of immigrants: from Mexico, Panama, Puerto Rico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, even Venezuela and Paraguay. These places are all part of the Americas, which is what makes the title so appropriate with its double entendre. In brief, compelling chapters, among those told in Alma and Mayor’s voices, the neighbors share their pasts explaining why they left their native countries for the U.S.A.

The Book of Unknown Americans
Four Bookmarks
Alfred A, Knopf, 2014
286 pages

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Wrestling With Sexuality   9 comments

Similar themes, character types and unusual situations find their way to John Irving novels. His latest, In One Person, is no exception. Despite these commonalities, it’s an original look at acceptance and the secrets families hide in plain view, particularly when it comes to sex. The most covert issue is the sexuality of young Billy Abbott, the protagonist/narrator. Billy struggles with this; it’s also something family members have insight into but refuse to reveal – hoping they’re wrong. Yet all around him are mixed messages, from Billy’s loveable cross-dressing grandfather to the cruel teenage wrestling superstar. Billy’s story spans more than 50 years, and it’s clear his family’s hopes were dashed. Billy isn’t gay, he’s bi-sexual, but that’s not what they’re hiding.

Among the characters populating Irving’s novel are angry mothers (several), wrestlers (many), and transgenders (numerous, although Billy’s generation used the term transsexuals). A residential boys school in rural Vermont  – another typical Irving element – is among the settings. Perhaps the strongest of the similarities is the power of friendship. Billy’s true friends are an eccentric bunch with shared worries. The complicated town librarian (my favorite character) probably knows Billy best.

The novel is like a one-sided conversation Billy has with the reader. Billy repeats some details, tells some things out of sequence and offers a few teasers. As in his other work, Irving’s irony and descriptive writing prevail.

A Prayer for Owen Meany is not just my favorite book by Irving, it’s one of my favorite books by anyone. In One Person is not on that pedestal, but it’s close.

In One Person
Four-and-a-half Bookmarks
Simon & Schuster, 2012
425 pages