A lively third installment in a series of novels (Chango’s Fire, 2004, etc.) set in Spanish Harlem by Ecuadorian-born novelist Quiñonez.
Parthenogenesis, Puerto Rican style: Her name carries strong hints of the original Taino people whom Columbus first encountered on arriving in the Caribbean, but Taína Flores would seem to have more in common with the supernatural than the historical. The 15-year-old resident of a busy housing project alongside the East River is so carefully watched that, says her no-nonsense mother, Inelda, “she was sure that Taína didn’t even masturbate,” but yet here she is, pregnant, as if by some visiting angel. Taína sings like an angel and curses like a sailor (”Who the fuck you think we are, the royal fucking family?”), and young Julio Colmiñares is head over heels. He believes she’s a virgin, but at 17, a kind of literary cousin of Oscar Wao, he doesn’t know quite as much as he thinks he does. It’s up to Taína’s uncle Salvador, el Vejigante, a scary giant who comes out only at night and who confesses to having been the Capeman way back in the day, to explain the ways of the world along with Julio’s lovely parents, immigrants with dreams. Julio is a good kid, but it’s all too easy to cross the line separating good from evil: “Destiny says to the bum, You’ll always be a bum,” a repentant Sal tells him, adding, “The bum says, Because you cheat. And Destiny says, Yeah, but I let you play." Other memorable figures shape the story, including a spiritualist named Peta Ponce who believes that the dead remain on Earth out of sight of God and guide the living—sometimes, as Julio learns, into a mess of trouble. Parts of his story seem almost afterthoughts, parts a little too reminiscent of García Márquez, but Quiñonez brings his imaginative tale to a graceful resolution.
An engaging work blending pop culture, magical realism, and spirited writing.