Devil Talk is a rich mix of contemporary short stories and folk tales of individuals dealing with evil in various forms: confronted by it, instigating it, dancing with it, and victimized by it. Fantastical events mingle with daily life in these stories that are immersed in Chicano and Mexicano culture, and often occur against the backdrop of Los Angeles.
In “Bender,” an LA couple decides the fate of a mysterious pet whose appearance is left to the reader’s imagination. Quetzalcoatl (“Quetzi”) bargains with La Diabla in “The Plumed Serpent of Los Angeles.” “The Fox” puts to shame villagers who criticize a hermit’s way of life. It’s only when the hermit rejoins society that her life falls apart, and as she meets a cruel end, she fondly recalls her simple life alone.
Olivas, the author of a novella, another short-story collection and a children’s book, not only employs the surreal and the magical with a good mix of humor, but on occasion uses experimental writing styles to tell the story. One favorite is “A Melancholy Chime,” a story told backward in six parts. Others are divided by seasons, camera angles, and tape recordings. Theseveffects mesh well with Olivas’s subject matter, successfully supporting the otherworldly feeling of these stories.
Sex and sexuality are important themes in this collection, as we see in “Willie,” “Sight,” and “Don de la Cruz and the Devil of Malibu,” but no judgment is made upon the characters–that is entirely left up to the reader. This works, for although their behavior often gets them into trouble, the stories never dissolve into parables that moralize.
I was not impressed with the first story, “Monk,” a strained tale that did not exhibit the same confidence shown in the rest of the collection. Antonio dreams of his girlfriends supportive responses to his petty transgressions such as littering and stealing office supplies–that she loves him just for who he is. But the tone of the story is contrived, and throughout it the various items that Antonio interacts with read not as props for character development but more like a barrage of advertising: the empty Starbucks cup, a Thelonious Monk CD, the Stanley-Bostitch stapler, his weather-beaten copy of Crime and Punishment. The story would have been more effective if it showed him actually committing these transgressions that dominate the start of the story and that, we read, made him feel strong and in control.
Make no mistake, these folk tales are not in the same category as those that benignly explain why the snake has no ears, or why the monkey cannot swim–many of these stories are sad, disturbing, and often racy. I couldn’t help but frequently inspect the front cover art between stories, perhaps because it was so indicative of Devil Talk’s feel: amidst hot reds and pinks, El Diablo overcomes a young woman on the dance floor while everyday life goes on around them.
Read More on this Subject:
No related posts.
Related posts brought to you by Yet Another Related Posts Plugin.
Read more articles by Andrée Kirk