Magical realism makes its way to Puerto Rico tinged with surrealism, post-realism, postmodernism, and even a little technospeak.
What happens when an ant ports a fungus into the colony, or when people merely trying to get to city from suburb have to put up with the anti-social barfing of an underage drunk on a train? “We are still sitting impatiently in the dark,” a harried rider remarks in a moment that might serve as the thesis for Colarusso’s overstuffed debut novel, mostly set in a Puerto Rico that does not entirely correspond to the real one. There, though an American territory whose residents are citizens, sort of, military drones ply the air like obscene birds of night, piloted from afar by career soldiers disconnected from the damage they do. One of whom, half borriqueño himself, is as much an artist of the joystick—“To watch Miguel play was something like watching a nervous portrait or a score to the music of his friend’s mind,” he recalls of a Game Boy mentor—as his rebel foe, a lieutenant named Frances Villegas, is an artist of the keyboard. “This is my song, Coronel. It brings me joy even if I don’t play well by your standards,” she tells her comandante, aware that a drone may interrupt the recital at any minute. For their part, the members of the Evangelist Insurrection, determined to shake off U.S. rule, are willing to do just about anything to gain the island’s freedom, scorched earth and all. But what might happen if they succeed? It’s one of many conditionals in a narrative that takes in brujeria, Santeria, négritude, and GlaxoSmithKline. Some of the manuscript seems an exercise in grad school style, some a dark here and playful there recasting of Caribbean history; Vonnegut would be at home in some passages, Junot Díaz in others, and if the story itself seems to fly off in different directions at times, the memorable characters, particularly the much-put-upon Malou, help keep things on track.
Readers with a taste for literary experimentalism and the Caribbean diaspora may take interest in Colarusso’s effort.