BENJY LOPEZ: A Picaresque Tale of Emigration and Return by Barry B. Levine

BENJY LOPEZ: A Picaresque Tale of Emigration and Return

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Benjy Lopez lives by wit, will, and words."" Barry Levine (Sociology, Florida International Univ.) sees Puerto Rican immigrant Lopez as akin to protagonists in novels by the likes of Mailer and Roth, heroes who are ""uncontrollably vivacious and have an irresistible will to live life to its fullest."" As such a hero Benjy also is to serve as prototype for a new ""picaresque sociology""--and counterpoint to the usual portrayal of the Puerto Rican as a loser (Oscar Lewis' La Vida, etc.). But he disappoints both as hero and as prototype, which is clearly not his fault but Levine's for trying to place too much sociological significance on a fairly inarticulate and unsurprising individual. Benjy does get into his share of scrapes and women, if that's picaresque. Escaping early poverty on the island by joining the National Guard, he later fights in France and Germany and with the troops mourns Roosevelt's death: ""Fuck the President, that son of a bitch anyway."" Deliberately catching venereal disease in France to arrange for a discharge to the mainland U.S., he makes a beeline on arrival for New York City. Then he sets up a back-and-forth life as a periodic cabbie and seaman, an occasional pimp. Throughout, as he charmingly phrases it, he is ""blasting"" women. He marries one of them, turns her into a prostitute, then dumps her for the teenage daughter of a friend because his wife is a whore. Despite his many encounters with racial prejudice, Lopez still believes in the United States. ""This world is shit. Take the United States out of the world and I don't know what would happen. . . . You could just close down the whole world."" More vintage Lopez: ""Somewhere in this world there's always that woman for a man."" Or try, ""The idea is to live like a rich man without being rich."" Benjy sees himself as heroic. So does Levine. We don't have to.

Pub Date: April 17th, 1980
Publisher: Basic Books