Heartfelt, inspirational allegorical tales, essays, poems and epigrams in English and Spanish from a noted storyteller of the American Southwest.
Though mostly set in recognizable terrain–specifically the fabled Route 66 of Northern New Mexico–Chavez's debut collection is more a thoughtfully drawn map of the heart and soul of that region than a mere travelogue for road-weary tourists. Combining ringing, declamatory odes to love, nature ("I am awash in the scarlet aura / Of the Sangra de Cristo Mountains"), courage, pride, manliness and other abstractions with more intimate prose accounts of the human comedy, the author largely succeeds in explicating with both skill and warmth his chosen theme–the preservation of personal dignity in the face of privation, loss and confusion. The mostly unrhymed poetical works are probably best appreciated when read aloud, recalling both rhythms of the traditional liturgical canon as well as the freer structures of folk ballads, chants and other fragments of the aural past. The best have a pleasing, dreamily incantatory feeling, while the less satisfying veer off into vaguely Whitman-esque rhetoric. Chavez's stories, however, more consistently hit the mark, due mostly to their simple structure and straightforward tone. The collection's disturbing centerpiece, "Back Side of Glory," is a familiar enough tale of an ex-soldier's failing alcoholic bid to purge himself of war and its horrors. His life a waking nightmare, he is ultimately rescued via the grace of finding a compassionate human with whom to share his tragic history. Happily for the reader, Chavez avoids an overwrought epiphany, and instead ends simply and eloquently: "Afterwards the air cleared. They both went about their work, in silence." This lack of extravagance–both linguistic and emotional–is the book's real strength.
A welcome addition to a genre too often defined by purple prose.