What Are They Reading?
SOY LA AVON LADY and Other Stories
by Lorraine López
Curbstone Press. 238 pp. $15.95 paper
There's no better antidote to orange alerts and duct-tape dictums than good fiction, and if the terrorists occupying the White House have shot your attention span, try a book of short stories. My pick, Lorraine López's Soy la Avon Lady, shows that our small, everyday lives contain quite enough terror, thanks. And that "you just have to laugh," in the words of Sophia, heroine of the first story, as she realizes she's about to be beaten half to death by a gang of girls from her school. There's plenty of comic relief.
Set in places like Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, or Barstow, California, or north Georgia (and with such irresistible titles as "Love Can Make You Sick" and "After Dad Shot Jesus"), López's tales--told with a radar ear for language and a sharp eye for the absurd, the sad, the scary and the hilarious--depict the lives of Latinos who, except for the occasional "novio," "mojados," "flaca," "válgame Dios" or "problem-cita," have somehow misplaced their Spanish, and perhaps a lot more.
López clearly loves her characters (as will you), foam curlers, lazy eyes, fat, sneeze-inducing perfume and all: Selena, who has never had a drink but attends AA meetings so she can say, "Hi, I'm Selena. I'm an alcoholic"; Joaquin Benevidez, a widower who misses his wife so much he gradually begins to smoke her cigarettes, watch her telenovelas, wear her perfume, her bathrobe, her make-up, and takes up her tatting; Molly Martinez, the Avon lady of the title story, whose brother owns the only horse motel in California and who winds up a bad night dumped in a parking lot, God knows where, by a gay biker who has mistaken her for a transvestite; Jonathan Escamilla, whose mother makes him take a Jell-O salad to the next-door neighbors as recompense for his accidentally shooting one of them dead; Esteban, the neighborhood bully, known as the fat boy with the chi-chis; Tina, the jilted, pregnant daughter from hell; and all their gentle, patient mothers and fathers, children, grandparents, cousins and tías and tíos.
They all seem to figure, sure, you might be dealing with cancer, a car wreck, alcohol, shootings, your miscalculation of how to dress for a black funeral, your dead cat or some "stoop-it shipskate" who never picks up a tab, but life does go on. Besides, there's always romance: "My sister Gloria once dated Lebanese twins, both butchers, and I hoped she'd marry one and throw me the leftover. They were so darling in their matching blood-stained aprons," says our Avon lady. Like many Latinos in America, she wonders who on earth she is. Barefoot and lost, she follows a woman to ask for help. "¿Quién es?" the woman calls out. "Who are joo?" Our lost Latina thinks, "I know if I wait and I'm quiet, the Spanish will come back to me. The old woman has asked a very good question, and we both deserve an answer."