Novelist and poet Castillo (Father Was a Toltec, 1995, etc.) combines her arts in this “novel in verse.”
This book should be dedicated to Tezcatlipoca, the god of “Double Meanings.” In keeping with her two-gender title and hybrid genre, Castillo tells paired stories of Ella and an unnamed first-person narrator, both bilingual Mexicans who have worked the last two decades in low-paying jobs in El Norte. Brown-skinned and small-bodied Amazons, they use wit and cleverness as arrows to puncture the pretenses, and to halt the advances, of dull men such as the do-gooding “Righteous White Boyz,” “The Seminarian” and “Bill-with-the-Baggage.” A mother as a teenager, Ella loves women and gay men best. The narrator loves Ella for her unsuspected beauty, her watercolors and her persistence. Initially doubles, these plucky border women turn out to be the same person, whole in the end. Castillo knows the economic and psychological deprivations of immigrant workers and gay minorities, and includes a chapter on the murders of women laboring in Juárez factories, a horror recently covered by the American press. But Ella’s plotless sexual adventures, the narrator’s digressions and the short lines of Castillo’s conversational triplet stanzas—along with the uncertain identities of Ella and the narrator—keep the reader at an emotional distance.
An often engaging fusion of Chicana realism and Aztec mythologizing that ultimately lacks weight.