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CUBOP CITY BLUES by Pablo Medina


by Pablo Medina

Pub Date: June 5th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-8021-1984-1
Publisher: Grove

Storytelling that playfully illuminates the essence of storytelling, though heavier on atmosphere and color than narrative momentum and cohesion.

Some of the shorter vignettes seem to function as prose poems, and a few of the longer pieces work as stand-alone stories, though the recurrence of characters throughout the selections suggests a novelistic scope. The titular “Cubop City” is a Manhattan of the imaginary realm; it is “walking words and static silence and drums and saints and demons with penises like flaming hoses stalking the pretty girls by the school door...It is the long nose of the marketplace and the short nose of the church.” But it is not the only city explored here, as the book culminates in the birth of Afro-Cuban jazz in New Orleans (with Jelly Roll Morton as midwife) and makes extended stops in Havana and Las Vegas. The stories are attributed to “The Storyteller,” a blind man born to parents who never loved him or each other and are now on the verge of death. “I made believe I could see, I made believe I was a character in the stories,” he explains. “I made believe I had a life inside the fiction, that I could love and be afraid and tell stories and be wounded and married and divorced and live alongside the characters I created. And that it was all true.” Such truth manifests itself in repeated incidents of stabbing wounds and obsessions or foot fetishism, amid a more pervasive sexuality. He writes of “trying to devise a story that had no solitude, no death, and no sex. No sex? It was like fishing for the impossible fish.”

Love of life, music, sex and language redeem a work that might have benefited from more continuity and focus.