(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

Loving Pedro Infante is Denise Chávez’s third novel. In it, Teresa (Tere) Avila, a Mexican American woman in her thirties, wishes she had a lover like Pedro Infante, the Mexican singer and movie star who died in a plane crash in 1957. As the story details Tere’s addiction to Pedro Infante, it shows her feelings about love and sex, as well as about the culture she is part of, especially its emphasis on the tyranny of the past and the melodrama of longing. Both of these latter qualities explain why Tere belongs to a Pedro Infante fan club, of which she is the secretary and her best friend Irma (La Wirms) Granados the vice president.

The real life of Pedro Infante was a reflection of the characters he played in his movies. His women adored him—his first wife Maria Luisa, his second wife Irma Dorantes, and his lovers Lupita Marquez and Lupe Torrentera. He made them all suffer by cheating on them, but he also looked after them and the daughters he had by them, as he did his mother, Doña Refugio. In short, the past for Infante was a responsibility that he could not escape, while his desire for new women was a theater in which he could not help acting.

Tere Avila is like the actresses in Pedro Infante’s films: She longs for him, and her search for his avatar gives her, for most of the novel, a sense of direction hard to come by in Cabritoville, New Mexico, the border town where she grew up. She still lives there, working as a teacher’s aide in the elementary school and spending her free time watching videos of Infante’s movies with La Wirms. These “Pedro-athons” last whole weekends, during which Tere and Irma discuss Infante, cook, drink, and pass out.

Both women are looking for the right man, and so far, both have failed to find one in their sexual partners. Tere married when she was eighteen, though her husband, Reynaldo Ambriz, left her after two years with the excuse was that he “didn’t like the way I smelled” and “he was afraid of menstrual blood.” Tere’s most recent lover, Santiago (Chago) Talamentes,“the world’s tallest Chicano,” has left her for a construction job in California.

For years, Tere and La Wirms have trolled for men on Friday nights in La Tempestad, a bar in town. It was here that La Wirms met her last lover, Sal, and Tere met Chago. Sex is available in such a place, but an enduring love, it seems, is not, as Lucio Valadez, whom Tere meets in La Tempestad, makes all too clear. As a lover, Lucio fits Tere’s vision of Pedro Infante, but also like Infante, he has a wife and daughter, and it is to them that he always returns. Lucio’s daughter Andrea attends the school where Tere works, and when Tere sees Lucio kissing his daughter there, she falls in love with him. Later in the novel, she knows her affair is doomed when Andrea sees Lucio kissing her in the school parking lot. La Wirms, who is more a student than a dupe of Infante’s attraction to women, warns Tere against Lucio. She herself has grown to be much more wary of such men than Tere is, and she seldom dates.

Because women in their society are under the thumb of men, to whom they hand over their dreams and emotions with little or no return, they depend on each other in order to express these things. This is why Tere and Irma are best friends. It is also why they are friends with their mothers. Irma’s mother, Nyvia Ester Granados, is the president of their chapter of the Pedro Infante fan club, and Tere lives next door to her mother Albinita, who often feeds her. Nyvia Ester and Albinita, like their daughters, live alone. Their men are gone. Quirino, Tere’s father, died when she was a child, and like Pedro Infante, who “ruled his many houses,” Quirino not only cheated on his wife, but was a tyrant to her and his daughter.

Women bring this tyranny on themselves in some ways. The more Lucio Valadez tells Tere he does not love her, but loves only his daughter and his wife Diolinda as “his best friend,” the more Tere wants him, thus giving him power over her emotions. However, everything about him, except sex, excludes her. In addition to having a family, he is five years younger than Tere, his ambitions as an insurance and car salesman claim most of his time. He lives in El Paso, Texas, and he tries to improve his vocabulary without sharing his mind with Tere. Indeed, Tere’s failure to pry his wedding ring off his finger the first time they make love foreshadows his refusal at any time to choose her over his other life.

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(The entire section is 1837 words.)