Jose Builds a Woman
Mesmerizing! Stunning! Elegant! Captivating! Powerful! Lush! A winner! Magical realism that seduces the reader from beginning to end!
When Ooligan's acquisitions committee discussed this marvelous first novel by Portland photographer/painter/dramatist Baross, the superlatives and exclamations wouldn't stop. Word spread, and soon Ooligan's other student publishers were waiting in line to read this novel set in a fictional Mexican coastal village. "Jose" is the story of Tortugina, the narrator, whose happiness and hardship are tied to the sea and to the men in her life, from her demanding father and dead lover to her cruel, abusive husband and beautiful, sensitive son.
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This quirky novel of magical realism is well-written, rich in detail and full of dry humor. The settings, Mexican villages by the ocean, are vividly described and come to life, as do the characters. However, I thought it dealt too lightly with deeply disturbing things, which is especially odd given that it’s from a first person point of view. This probably wasn’t intentional, but the author seems nonchalant about domestic violence and rape. In other words, I wanted the book to be more psychological. I also wanted Tortugina’s abusive brute of a husband to die a horrible and painful death.
An excellent addition to the magical realism canon of the Americas. Always with an inflection toward imagination, the book is firmly rooted in the reality of love, loss, friendship, society, pettiness, and subtle strength. As in all good books of this category, the magic works not as a distraction or fantasy but as a heightening of the emotions endured by the wonderful, colorful characters, who are complex, contradictory, and sensual. So often magical realism is a sign pegged to the board of male authors, but Jose Builds a Woman weaves its struggles around central female figures, and with the unflinching beauty and precision of its warm and empathetic author.
John Sibley Williams