The Astral Plane: Stories of Cuba, the Southwest and Beyond
Decisions and transitions
Carolina Caballero, Ph.D.
In her new compilation of short fiction The Astral Plane: Stories of Cuba, the Southwest and Beyond, Teresa Dovalpage offers a diversity characters in the midst of decisions and transitions. In the presence of South Indian Yogis, New Mexican Santeros, Afro-Cuban Orishas, Edgar Allen Poe, The Beatles and La Llorona, the author details moments in the lives of Cubans, Nuevo Mexicanos and Anglo-Americans.
Published on LatinoLA: February 2, 2012
The stories are sometimes comical and often tragic but always engaging. In each one, Dovalpage reminds us that any choice we make, from deciding to leave the country, to walking around the block to engaging in a conversation with a total stranger, could become momentous. In the blink of an eye, the insignificant turns historic.
Those familiar with this author's work knows she has a fondness for blending characters from her native Cuba into the distinctive Southwest/New Mexican population and landscape and that she has called home since her arrival in the US. She excels in presenting the many contradictions that make up the Cuban condition. Her cubanos both on the island and in the US are not dissidents, politically obsessed, or champions for democracy. Instead, the members of the Cosmic Brotherhood in the humorous "The Astral Plane" simply follow the Maestro out of boredom and because they find they need to have faith in something, anything, as their island world falls apart around them during the economic crisis of the Special Period of 1990's Cuba.
In "Menina and the Chupacabras," the title character is unable to reconcile her fantasies of the United States with the reality of immigration, which leads, inexplicably, to her violent death. In "The Guerilla Girl and The Beatles," T?írsila recounts her quirky family's propensity for domestic exhibitionism and her first crush on a female journalist whose defense of the Beatles leads to her social and political exile. It is refreshing to read and get to know Dovalpage's multifaceted Cubans. They are complicated, conflicted and not always easy to like. Nonetheless, their very humanity, revealed through Dovalpage's poetic, yet direct prose, draws the reader into their unique plight as products of the triumphs and defects of the Revolution.
"Powerless frustrated bultos trapped inside the wooden prison of their lives, longing to escape." from "Goodbye, Santero"
In addition to Cubans, Dovalpage delves into the difficult lives and small victories of Mexican-Americans and Anglo-Americans living in New Mexico. In "Poe, the Professor and Papichulo" and "A Virgin for Cachita," two lonely university professors find "love" as they haplessly fall prey to Cuban jineteros or gigolos. Leroy deals with the end of his first serious relationship, his unprecedented academic success and his brother's tragic PTSD in "Goodbye, Santero." In "La Llorona's son", the author presents Brenda's life as it continually unravels after her son disappears suddenly only to reappear briefly years later. Like their Cuban counterparts, these characters on the mainland struggle to find satisfaction, fulfillment and, maybe even, happiness.
"In any case, didn't they need lies?" from "The Astral Plane"
Although each story is self contained and can be read independently, it is when they are read together that they are most affective, unsettling, comic and heartfelt. Characters, storylines, and motifs reappear from one tale to the next, informing and enriching each other. While every story is distinct, these protagonists, who are from varied cultural and economic backgrounds, share common struggles as they stumble in search for a way to escape or a place to land, to live, to be who they are. There are no heroes in these stories but they are not villains either, much like in everyday life. Oddly, that is what is most comforting, for lack of a better word, about The Astral Plane: Stories of Cuba, the Southwest and Beyond, at least for this reader. Dovalpage's characters exude an unapologetic normalcy in their flaws that even toothless false prophets, calculating serial killers, conniving prostitutes, and scheming mothers-in-law become endearing in the end.
The collection, which will be published in paperback in March 2012, is already available in as an e-book
Carolina Caballero, Ph.D.:
Carolina Caballero has a Ph.D. in Romance Languages. She specializes in contemporary Latin American literature, particularly that of Cuba and the Caribbean. Dr. Caballero is currently a professor at Tulane University.