Thursday, July 01, 2004

As the Tamale Turns

Caramba! A Tale Told in Turns of the Card, by Nina Marie Martinez (Knopf , $25.95 368p)

Half artifact and half book, this novel pulls us along into the wacky world of Lava Landing, California, where best friends Natalie and Consuelo, all high-heels and vintage clothes, embark on a mission to break Consuelo’s dead father out of purgatory. This is both harder and easier than it seems, as the girls know what needs to be done, but it needs to be done at the site of his death in Mexico, and Consuelo is afraid to travel.

Sprinkled with Spanglish, sporting colored pages, diagrams, pictures, drawings, maps, handwritten letters and replicas of Mexican lotería cards, this book is evidence of the story it relates. The book is a road trip in itself.

But wait, before we join the girls on their adventure we are introduced to the other main characters in Lava Landing: Javier Solís and his Born Again Mariachi Band, his girlfriend Lucha, recently released from prison for drug-dealing; Lulabell, Javier’s mother, who takes lovers like other women take breath mints and decides to auction off her soul; the hairdressing transvestite True-Dee, proprietor of True-Dee’s Tresses, and April May, the ugliest beauty queen to ever hold a title for 9 years straight. Last but not least, there is the history of El Condenado, the volcano that gives the town its name.

Each of the characters has a hurdle to overcome or a goal to achieve and as we follow them around their various pursuits – from saving souls to settling down to creating the perfect hair treatment, this is a carnival ride of a story that goes down like a cool glass of lemonade spiked with a shot of tequila. After you’re done you’ll be refreshed, happy and slightly loopy.

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