Page 45 Review by Stephen
Time and again I'm asked where to start on Los Bros Hernandez.
"Anywhere!" is the answer for they're both consummate storytellers and the most convivial of hosts, introducing you to their cast as they come to each party and you'll get along fine, I swear.
Luba is reading in bed when first her son then her three daughters climb on.
"The kids at school call me Sissy Boots."
"Well, climbing into bed with me isn't going to make you look exactly macho, sweetheart."
"Just because I hate playing sports and I'd rather play dress up with girls!"
"They call me Tarzan at school just because I like to wrestle with boys instead of play hopscotch!"
"They call me Conan."
"Some pack I'm raising. Come in then. I don't need to hear any more. Climb into the Fortress Of Love."
"Yay! Nobody's mean to us in the Fortress Of Love!"
Isn't that cute?
"I don't need to hear any more" is actually the telling line, though.
Gilbert and Jaime are renowned for their down-to-earth portraits of Mexican and Mexican-immigrant life: a Latino soap opera with a sprawling cast who have aged on the page, loved and lost and now spanned generations. Both brothers portray age so well, from skinny-legged, hyperactive five-year-olds to the coarsely lined evidence of having weathered so many storms.
Both brothers also suffuse their rich, contemporary fiction with the fantastical. Not just local legends, though there are plenty of those. So many of the segments that make up this organic and unusual narrative are decidedly surreal. And it is comprised of segments: short sketches from here and there, now and then, that between them build up to form a much larger picture and although so much is said, so much is left unsaid to simmer in silence.
Like Greek tragedies it's also full of formalities, of non-naturalistic elements and devices. I mean, does Luba really carry that hammer around with her everywhere? Around the house? Even to work? Well yes, probably, but it's more a reminder of what she's endured, and the manner in which she's endured it!!
Also, consider the effect of Hector dating her knock-out, body-building sister, Petra. The panels are packed with thought bubbles riddled with Hector's self-doubting insecurities - internal monologues as his mind whirls around in an incessant self-torture of lust and guilt while she, seemingly sublime, gives nothing away. Petra's not weighed down by a single thought bubble, she just gets on and swims or dances. It keeps you worried that good-hearted Hector is going to balls it up by not paying her any verbal attention, by failing to actively engage and enjoy his time with her.
And then there's Books, as unrealistic a figure as you can imagine, squat and sour and melodramatic. She's not really a person, more of a narrative device, passing judgement on the proceedings:
"Patterns repeat themselves, little to no change in their actions, no lessons learned."
That's part of the point of this book: that some people simply don't grow except in their waistline. But it does make the final twist all the more surprising, as one person finally makes a decision to break with the habits of a lifetime, whilst the predominantly ambling pace gives the dark dénouement a stunning punch to the guts.
I'd better give you an idea of what the book's actually about, hadn't I?
For a start: sex. Everyone's at it, or trying to get at it. It's a veritable cat's cradle of relationships! One of Luba's sisters, Fritz, is dating both handsome soccer champion, Sergio, and his mother, Pipo! Luba herself personifies this (not the sapphic part - she's actually censoriously homophobic, especially concerning her children). She doesn't get much herself here but she is a force of nature, unfeasibly well endowed, with a raw sexuality which few are immune to.
What Luba does get comes from Fortunato, an enigmatic, Adonis-like figure from the sea who appears at key moments (always with a Reeves-and-Mortimer "Fortunato!" dub over his head) to seduce or fulfil the sexual needs of the female cast. The odd thing is, he might not even exist except in their heads - in their memories and in their dreams. And what's the difference between dreams and memories? Neither necessarily represents an accurate recording of the past. They're both elusive and subject to perception, and within both key elements may disappear with time only to re-emerge, sometimes inconveniently.
All of which brings us pertinently to Ofelia herself, Luba's elder cousin. Oh, Ofelia has plenty of memories which she threatens to transcribe into a book, yet she doesn't appear much except at the beginning and the end. Instead we gradually discover that she's lived her stifled life almost entirely vicariously whilst nurturing both Luba then two generations of Luba's offspring and it's left Ofelia resentful.
But Ofelia she has one unspoken memory, shared by several, and that in itself may be the key as to why she chose to stay at home in the first place...
Tip of the hat to the chapter title, 'Spot Marks The Ex."
For more of Pipo and Fritz, please see HIGH SOFT LISP.