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Michelle Newby is contributing editor at Lone Star Literary Life, reviewer for Foreword Reviews, freelance writer, member of the National Book Critics Circle, and blogger at www.TexasBookLover.com. Her reviews appear or are forthcoming in Pleiades Magazine, Rain Taxi, World Literature Today, South85 Journal, The Review Review, Concho River Review, Monkeybicycle, Mosaic Literary Magazine, Atticus Review, and The Collagist.
A native of El Paso, Carlos Nicolás Flores is a winner of the Chicano/Latino Literary Prize and author of a young adult novel, Our House on Hueco (TTUP, 2006). As director of the Teatro Chicano de Laredo and a former director of the South Texas Writing Project, he has long been engaged in the promotion of new writers and writing about the Mexican-American experience. He teaches English at Laredo Community College in Laredo, Texas.
Flores, Carlos Nicolás
Texas Tech University Press
9780896729308, paperback, 406 pgs., $34.95
July 1, 2015
SEX AS A POLITICAL CONDITION, the newest smartly designed title in Texas Tech University Press’s Americas series, is professor and activist Carlos Nicolás Flores’s latest novel. Sex As a Political Condition is about history, family, politics, economics, friendship, and religion. I am conflicted. The novel ambitious and has great potential but ultimately disappoints.
Former narcotrafficante and all-around punk (“from a long line of vain and violent men, always in trouble with women or the law or both”) Honoré del Castillo runs his family’s Mexican curio shop in Escandón (Laredo), Texas. He’s gone straight thanks to his mentor, Juan Sánchez Trusky (a.k.a. Trotsky), a revolutionary. Honoré and Trotsky are part of a humanitarian aid convoy to the Nicaraguan contras. Difficulties ensue: Feds, federales, the CIA, feminists, Republicans, hillbillies, the Guatemalan army, old grudges from narco days.
Flores’ novel exhibits wry humor, such as this conversation between Honoré and his wife, Maruca:
“My greatest fear is dying in front of a television.”
She glanced sideways at him. “What’s wrong with that?”
“Trotsky says most men die like that. Stupid, inconsequential deaths. Me – I want to die on some beach in Central America, before a firing squad.”
“Do you know what it feels like to wake up in the morning and discover you’re in bed with a Republican?”
“Do you know what it feels like to wake up in the morning and discover you are in bed with a communist?”
And this between Trotsky and Honoré:
“Sometimes things make sense and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes your closest allies turn out to be your worst enemies. Do you know what all of this is called?”
Unfortunately more of the humor is pubescent-boy level. I’m a fan of irreverence and agree that political correctness can be taken too far. I am not a fan of crudity for its own sake, and too much of Sex As a Political Condition is merely offensive: stereotypes, bathroom humor, disgusting euphemisms for female body parts. Why do men deride and degrade what they spend their lives trying to get? Honoré is obsessed with breasts — so I asked a guy friend about breasts. My point was that men are surrounded by breasts; half the population has (usually) two of them. He said, “Yeah, but they’re hidden.” Okay.
Flores does have a way with imagery. For example: “[T]he sunrise was the color inside a conch shell…silver lacquer turning orange and pink.” And this: “…unmarked sedans with long steel antennae flopping about like rigging on shrimp boats...” You can see it, can’t you?
Sex As a Political Condition has an intriguing plot that would’ve benefited from further editing. It’s too long, the pacing frequently slow, and the crudity tiresome. This is a shame because Flores has important things to say. We are pacified and tranquilized by comfort, television, money, too much stuff (see George Carlin). Camping for new iPhones is understandable, but Occupy is a bunch of dirty hippies. “This was what Trotsky called American totalitarianism at its worst – or rather, its best. Don’t bother… [nothing] matters anyway…nothing you can do. Man lives by bread alone. Nothing is worthy of personal risk….Buy a television.”
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