Holding Woman and Other Stories of Acceptable Madness
by Kelley Jácquez. Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingüe. Fiction.
Kelley Jácquez likes her characters, and so does the reader. From Beany, the prostitute who also does elder care; to Jimmy, the Vietnam vet who doesn't realize he's no coward; however flawed, weak, delusional, or fallen they are, they have some endearing quality—wit, or irony, compassion, loyalty; or they just give off the sense—dammit—that they don't deserve the rotten hands they've been dealt. And there's appeal in this.
"Holding Woman" is a collection of 16 loosely intertwined stories set in a small, working class town in 1970s northwest New Mexico. The area was settled by Spaniards and Basques, and spoken Spanish is sprinkled throughout.
Jácquez first gathers her characters together in public settings—the church and the town bar; then she tells their individual stories. In "The Joke," boozy Father Morris slurs his way through mass but is forgiven by the congregation. In "One Night," Jácquez's main characters run into each other in the bar. The conversation there ranges from the bawdy (the pain of penile parturition) to the blessed (what are the qualifications for "miracle"?).
She gives us the rules the village lives by—the understandings by which its society operates ("after a day of everybody lying to everybody else, all of them knowing they were lying to each other, and all of them swearing to it, ...")—and demonstrates how they're applied. Hers is amusing, affectionate prose.
Just one gripe, though: Jácquez doesn't need her final, treacly story ("Holding Woman") to tie up her characters' tales. She's already embraced them; we get it.
Diné Perspectives: Revitalizing and Reclaiming Navajo Thought.
Edited by Lloyd L. Lee. Foreword by Gregory Cajete. University of Arizona Press. Nonfiction.
Central to this collection of scholarship on Navajo thought and culture by Navajo (Diné) scholars and activists is the traditional concept of Sa'h Naagháí Bik'eh Hózhoon—roughly, "one's journey of striving to live a long, harmonious life." Also central to the collection are the societal disruptions and effects of colonization, forced assimilation, and modernity. UNM Assistant Professor of Native American Studies Lloyd L. Lee introduces the work and sets the tone by telling some of his life story, which includes growing up with limited language or cultural training.
Its four sections cover individual interpretations of Sa'h Naagháí Bik'eh Hózhoon and its attendant concept of Hózhoon (beauty); methodologies of research into Diné culture; historic and demographic changes in the nation, community policy, and colonialism and Diné resistance to it; and, finally, cultural sustainability, language revitalization, and the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
"Diné Perspectives" is no light read (nor was it meant to be); it's a discussion among educated, interested parties about reclaiming and sustaining their culture. And it's worth sitting in on.
The Last Death of Jack Harbin
by Terry Shames. Seventh Street Books. Fiction.
In her second Samuel Craddock mystery, Terry Shames mixes the effects of war with small-town Texas high school football culture. Football stars and best friends from high school, Woody Patterson and Jack Harbin tried to enlist in the army together, but Woody was rejected. He married the girl they were both in love with and stayed in Jarrett Creek. Then the Gulf War broke out and Jack was deployed and seriously injured. He returned to Jarrett Creek blind, embittered, and estranged from his old friends. Just as they are about to reconcile, he's murdered. Craddock, the former police chief, is recruited to track down Jack's murderer.
Shames, from Texas herself, seems to understand her small towns, and populates this one with generally credible characters. Samuel Craddock is a nice guy, a sensitive widower who makes jelly. You know he'll unravel the mystery.
"The Last Death of Jack Harbin"t is curiously lacking in suspense, though. You don't anticipate the underlying, somewhat implausible secrets and mystery, but they don't create much tension. And it's hard to sympathize with an ill-tempered vet or adults who never got past high school sports.