Ethnic pride and multiculturalism are the themes that propel this huge, consciously symphonic novel, a breakout book for the “underground” author (Mendoza’s Dreams, not reviewed, etc.).
Vidamia Farrell, a Puerto Rican/Irish-American teenager moves purposefully between the opposed “worlds” of Tarrytown, where she lives in affluence with her mother Elsa (a prominent Manhattan psychotherapist) and stepfather, and Manhattan’s Lower East Side, where Vidamia is reunited with the families of her father Billy Farrell, a wounded and traumatized Vietnam vet. Guilt-ridden for failing to prevent his best friend Joey Santiago’s death in combat, Billy has renounced a once-promising career as a jazz pianist (when a teenager, he had “jammed” with Miles Davis). As Vidamia sets about to revive his talent and motivation, Vega Yunqué swoops energetically through the entangled lives and histories of several intensely realized characters. Prominent among them are Elsa, who’s at constant war with real and imagined limitations imposed by her heritage; Billy’s stoical black mentor, musician-composer Alfred Butterworth; Vidamia’s white half-sisters, Cookie, on the fast track to NYC’s Performing Arts High School, and Fawn, a hopeful poet cursed by a congenital sexual deformity; Wyndell Ross, the gifted black saxophonist who becomes Vidamia’s lover; and Carlos “Papo” Marcano, from the violence-prone slum of Alphabet City, whose sexual demands precipitate the catastrophic climax. No Matter is melodramatic, hortatory, and redundant; no matter: it’s also passionate and powerful, perhaps inspired (as internal evidence suggests) by James Baldwin’s Another Country. In fact, it’s as if Vega Yunqué intended an anti–Another Country: a book whose characters are too full of life and strength to be destroyed by racism. And its loving, vibrant portrayal of Vidamia’s assumption into maturity will remind many of Betty Smith’s often underrated popular classic A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.
A Puerto Rican American epic, and a reading experience not to be missed.