by Reggie Peralta
Part of LibroMobile's Tiny Review series
The debut short story collection by Marytza K. Rubio, Maria, Maria and Other Stories is a colorful assortment of tales that—to borrow a phrase from “The Polyamorous Cat”—“pursu[e] an ‘effect’ rather an “image’" through their emphasis on aesthetic and description. Drawing from her roots in Santa Ana as much as her time as a writer-in-residence in Brazil and other Latin American countries, Rubio shows all that can be seen and felt in the interplay between the city and the jungle, between nature and civilization, that pervades the book. It’s within this interaction that magic is made, allowing Rubio to explore love, loss, and everything in between.
Within these narratively promising settings, Rubio plays around with structure and subject to take her stories in refreshing, unpredictable directions. From the continuity-bending adventure of “Carlos Across Space and Time” to the short, self-contained sketches of “Art Exhibit,” she demonstrates her ability to write across different styles and premises as well as find something new in familiar literary tropes. This breadth of technique is complemented by a richness of theme, with several threads making their presence felt across the book. Magic, of course, is an important one, treated here not as a convenient tool for wish fulfillment but as a risky way for characters like the bereaved widow in “Tijuca” or Ruby and Liz in “Carlos” to haggle with the universe and change the fate or - failing that - memory of loved ones. Family emerges as an important theme as well, whether it be the blood bond between the vampire-adulating sisters in “Moksha” or the mystical heritage of the various Marias in the title story.
Adding to the vividness of the the worlds that Rubio crafts are the creatures that inhabit them. These aren’t mere animals acting off simple instinct: they are feeling, enchanting avatars for the anxieties and frustrations of characters and readers alike. This is seen most clearly in “Burial”, where a saber-toothed tiger is resurrected via rose petals by a young girl, coming in and out of her life as she grows older and navigates new relationships. Equally important are the various objects and items - whether it be the Agua de Florida in “Brujeria for Beginners” or the aforementioned rose petals - that Rubio dutifully lists in each story. This detailed cataloging bears a surprising resemblance to the extensive descriptions of Patrick Bateman’s belongings in Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho. However, while Ellis uses this monotonous rattling off of material possessions to convey the emptiness of Bateman’s life, Rubio recites the names of specific objects as if they were ingredients in a recipe or spell book: ingredients that, when brewed together, create possibility and meaning for her characters.
Embracing the unconventional in both narrative and form, Maria, Maria and Other Stories is a tropic-tinged tribute to the mysteries hiding within the cracks of reality.
A Santa Ana native, Reggie Peralta's writing has been featured on HonorSociety.org, The Frida Cinema, and The Grindhouse Cinema Database.