LONGLISTED FOR THE 2022 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FOR FICTION
Conjuring entrancing tales of Mexican American mystics and misfits, Marytza K. Rubio shatters the boundaries of reality with this fiercely imaginative debut.
“The first witch of the waters was born in Destruction. The moon named her Maria.”
Set against the tropics and megacities of the Americas, Maria, Maria takes inspiration from wild creatures, tarot, and the porous borders between life and death. Motivated by love and its inverse, grief, the characters who inhabit these stories negotiate boldly with nature to cast their desired ends. As the enigmatic community college professor in “Brujería for Beginners” reminds us: “There’s always a price for conjuring in darkness. You won’t always know what it is until payment is due.” This commitment drives the disturbingly faithful widow in “Tijuca,” who promises to bury her husband’s head in the rich dirt of the jungle, and the sisters in “Moksha,” who are tempted by a sleek obsidian dagger once held by a vampiric idol.
But magic isn’t limited to the women who wield it. As Rubio so brilliantly elucidates, animals are powerful magicians too. Subversive pigeons and hungry jaguars are called upon in “Tunnels,” and a lonely little girl runs free with a resurrected saber-toothed tiger in “Burial.” A colorful catalog of gallery exhibits from animals in therapy is featured in “Art Show,” including the Almost Philandering Fox, who longs after the red pelt of another, and the recently rehabilitated Paranoid Peacocks.
Brimming with sharp wit and ferocious female intuition, these stories bubble over into the titular novella, “Maria, Maria”—a tropigoth family drama set in a reimagined California rainforest that explores the legacies of three Marias, and possibly all Marias. Writing in prose so lush it threatens to creep off the page, Rubio emerges as an ineffable new voice in contemporary short fiction.
Mysticism and imagination run wild in Rubio's debut collection, which showcases glittering prose and a fearless approach to form and imagery. Many of these 10 tales defy categorization and blur genre boundaries. A duo searches the multiverse to find meaning in senseless death in "Carlos Across Space and Time." "Brujer a for Beginners" sees a magical teacher attempting to steer an unruly class. Generations of Marias work to make sense of their legacies and supernatural abilities within a dystopic jungle in "Maria, Maria." Strongest are "Tijuca," which captures the essence of grief as a widow cares for her husband's remains, and "Burial," which gives loneliness teeth as a young girl resurrects a saber-toothed tiger. Some of the more experimental works falter, however; both "Paint by Numbers" and "Art Show" privilege style over substance or clarity. Still, Rubio's talent is evident, and there's such a range of tones and genres on offer that any reader will find at least something to enjoy. Agent: Monica Odom, Odom Media Management.