The Man Who Could Fly
The stories in this collection by Rudolfo Anaya represent his short fiction over the span of his writing career. The themes, symbols, and images in these stories characterize his larger body of work. They depict, as do his novels, the landscape, culture, and values of the people of the southwestern United States, and these stories contribute to the significant position Anaya has secured in American literature, especially in the literature of writers describing the influence of a specific culture and heritage.
In the preface to his stories, Anaya asserts that he thinks and experiences events in terms of stories. He apprehends images that present themselves as landscapes, dreams, smells, or characters. He explains that stories are about people and the things they do, but that images express the heart of the stories.
As a Chicano writer nurtured in the diverse cultural environment of New Mexico, Anaya draws on the heritage of three groups: the Mexicans, whose spirits are shaped both by the indigenous people of Mexico and the Spaniards, the indigenous native people of the Southwest, and the Anglos. Most of Anaya’s stories refer to these cultures. The exceptions share with the other stories their descriptions of longing and loneliness, two themes generally associated with the isolated landscape of the desert. Most of the stories develop characters whose actions are based on attitudes learned or felt through cultural connections or attitudes and responses shaped by the environment.
The stories reflect Anaya’s perceptions of people and place and his awareness of his craft and the process of writing. Some explore the nature of storytelling itself, presenting the fiction writer as a searcher of meaning. Some stories emphasize the intersection of reality and fiction and their interrelationship. These tales explore the line between the real and the envisioned.
Sometimes the narrator of the story is a writer or storyteller, conscious of his search for an idea, aware of the importance of compelling events. In “A Story,” the narrator, suffering from a New Year’s Eve hangover, wants to begin the new year with a new story. To cure his hangover, he goes with his wife to their neighbor’s house for menudo, the traditional tripe and hominy soup cure. There, various revelers from the previous night tell stories, each hoping his tale will be the one the narrator writes down. Storytellers put on their best “border” accents for the slightly inebriated writer, who assumes an artistic distance, taking it all in, filing it all away, happy, finally, to break for the simple reality of food.
Another writer searching for a story lead, in “B. Traven Is Alive and Well in Cuernavaca,” is struck by the reverence in Mexico for B. Traven, writer of the story that John Huston adapted into his famous film The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948). The narrator considers accompanying Justino, an adventurous gardener, who has a plan for finding lost treasure. Before the writer actually undertakes this inauspicious trip, he meets the ghost of B. Traven at a party. B. Traven advises him always to follow the trail of adventure, asserting, with the confidence of the dead, that pursing an action results in more stories than does chatting with writers and ghosts at cocktail parties.
B. Traven’s appearance as a ghost is not unusual in a story by Anaya. His characters are haunted by uncanny connections with others. In “The Man Who Found a Pistol,” another narrator, talking to the bartender at a cantina (one of the best places for Anaya’s fictional writers to find stories), connects, with deeply felt sympathy, with a man who found a pistol. This listener, too, had found somethinga double-bladed ax submerged in a stream. He felt tempted to take it but wisely left it there. The man who found a pistol, however, took the gun, kept it, and in doing so, sealed his destiny. His life ended violently, so the story went, by a ghost in his own image, who came to the door and shot him with the pistol. As the strange and sad story evolved over several trips to the bar, the narrator came to feel for the man as if he were a brother.
The ghost of her beloved father haunts a woman in “The Road to Platero” as she tells her five-year-old son of his grandfather, who was murdered by her husband. Jealous and resentful of the man who so prized his only child and daughter, the husband killed the woman’s father. The man, in the story’s present, is haunted by images of...
(The entire section is 1845 words.)