Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Miraculous Day of Amalia Gomez by John Rechy

Amalia Gomez walks around Hollywood anticipating and dreading a miracle.

This deceptively simple novel is a character study, and unlike Madame Bovary or Mildred Pierce, this particular character study is not fused to a conventional plot. (Amalia’s story, however, might be fused to a theme – a pointedly political one). Amalia Gomez, the smart but uneducated Mexican-American daughter of El Paso, proud US Citizen, mother of three deeply unhappy children, supports her family with a variety of low end jobs and liaisons with different men. Her life, from the beginning, has been tough. An abusive father, abusive husbands, crappy jobs, society looking down on her because of her brown skin. The people who pass her in the street don’t really “see” her. Amalia endures because of her toughness, her vitality, and her faith/superstition. She never questions her painful life. The “plot” is Amalia spending a day in Hollywood, from East to West, a sealed letter in her purse she dreads to open. In scene after scene, we experience Amalia’s daily life, her interactions with her man, her children, and her coworkers at the garment factory. In between the day’s events, Amalia has almost uniformly unhappy memories of her past.

Amalia herself does not make dumb decisions.   Rather she is a victim of the culture – the profound passivity required by women which has caused her not to question the unrelenting pain she has experienced and expects. Her gritty life is contrasted with the silly glittering stories of the telenovelas and Amalia’s emotional devotion to the Virgin of Guadalupe.

The writing is vivid and alive. I really felt inside Amalia’s head. This is a portrait of a person and a time. I laughed with delight at the end – all that walking took her to the Beverly Center, and a finale right out of a telenovela.

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