The Amado Women
We are Here: Done!
Helen of Pasadena this is not.
This book surprised me many times. Usually, I can see where things are headed. Not so in the world Zamorano builds here. I appreciated being blindsided, even when it hurt. And this book is full of pain…it drives the action, recklessly, even as the characters try to paint lines on the highway to match and contain the erratic lane-changes.
To wit, many of the characters seem to have an uninterrogated acceptance of the karmic forces with which they believe their lives to be intertwined. It is a way to make sense of the madness, while numbing pain with heavy dosages of self-flagellation. At times, their faith in karma takes on a fatalistic determinism, often giving in to baser human nature in ways the characters seem resigned to, ruefully welcoming what they believe to be the consequences. They readily adopt blame for tragedies with a familiar masochism, and the various effects this has on their behavior throughout the novel is interesting in its diversity.
The internal timeline was often confusing. Part of this was due to the way in which I read the book–a few chapters at a time before bed, often skipping a day or two between readings. Narrative threads span decades, and it was sometimes hard to tell where a flashback ended and the book’s present took up again. This was unfortunate, because the flashbacks are significant, informing character’s reactions to and actions within the present. Just when exactly did X & Y character have lunch that one time, and how old was Y when it happened? Where does it fall in relation to the tragedy that struck Z? Those types of thoughts intruded upon my reading more than once. But then I’d quickly get swept up in the cycle of purgatory the characters call home and read on, worried creases in my forehead, eager to see what befell these characters next, and who among them would (hopefully) triumph.
Zamorano’s focus on the female characters in this novel is both significant and presented as a given. Male characters poke their noses in and even predicate some of the action, but they are largely ancillary or unwanted–they are certainly not as important as the female characters and the relationships they have with one another. This casual, defiant centering of minority women, who are more often than not shoe-horned into most narratives, makes this novel’s treatment of even familiar topics special.
Why is this book better than people?
More than once I needed to take an emotional break, to stop reading it before bed, to step away for a day or so…and even then I was compelled to keep reading, to find out what happened to these women and the people who orbited their stars. We can cuddle next month, I thought at my partner. I have these interwoven stories to finish. Thank goodness my partner doesn’t read minds…or this blog.
I had the pleasure of volunteering at BinderCon, and one of my duties had me passing the mic during Q&A sessions. This left me free to listen to the panels themselves–a real treat! Being in a room with so many intelligent female & non-gender-conforming people was one of the best experiences I’ve had all year. And it was where I met Désirée Zamorano.
Zamorano participated in a panel on writing “against expectations”–the importance of telling diverse stories. She spoke eloquently and firmly about her mission to remove the “cloak of invisibility” that often obscures middle-class Mexican women. That and the fact that this novel is set in familiar geographical territory inspired me to buy her book. She noticed and offered to sign it, wishing me luck with my own writing. That lovely interaction was indicative of the entire conference: a lesson in mutual support.