A Review by Joe Armando Lopez
Part of LibroMobile's Tiny Review series
As Maya Hidalgo carries her father’s casket in procession through a small ruddy town in the suburbs of Jalisco, Mexico, she wonders how she was even roped into attending the funeral. She had plenty of work representing a client in Los Angeles, where her ascension to full partner of the law firm she worked for was eminent. The man in the casket, on the other hand, is the source of Maya's rancor, remorse, and resentment.
Joaquin Hidalgo’s name seems to symbolize the convoluted nature of his character: it recalls Miguel Hidalgo, the heroic father of the Mexican revolution, and Joaquin Murrieta, a bandido to the Yankee takeover of the American southwest,. Despite being dead, Joaquin still plays a troubled and disturbing role in Ruthie Marlenée’s new novel, Agave Blues.
Maya had not seen nor heard from Joaquin for more than a year when her daughter Lily called about his death. “His name hadn’t been uttered for so long nor had I heard anything from or about him-as if he were already dead,” she says.
Dolores, Maya’s mom, wanted nothing to do with Joaquin Hidalgo and promised never to return — “Jure nunca volver” — and Rudy, Maya’s oldest brother, felt the same. This left Maya to return to Mexico to identify and bury her father, a clear indication of Maya’s sense of filial obligation despite her reluctance, ultimately exhibiting the author’s attempt to show our universal need for empathy, forgiveness, peace, and dignity in the afterlife, despite what heartache we may have caused during our time on earth as per her protagonist’s actions.
Marlenee gracefully paints Maya Hidalgo, the middle-aged, widowed, single mother, with strokes of strength, knowledge of self, and cultural identity as she carries the burdens of the past and takes on the world as best she can with what she knows.
The magic in Marlenee’s surrealist fiction was smoothly and meticulously layered oil on canvas. Stroke by stroke, Marlenee paints a piece worthy of recognition among artists like impressionist painters among the likes of Van Gogh where each touch of the brush is textured with the complexities of color conveying family connections, bonds, and backstories only revealing themselves after a step back allows a survey of the composition’s depth. The pixelated images only become more focused and identifiable as apparitions Maya encounters in the lucid dreamlike state she enters when meditating between the rows of agave plants under the star speckled skyscape.
Awaiting the reader is a journey into a transcendental world of family strife, struggles, discoveries, resolve, and ultimate forgiveness, through the eyes of Maya Hidalgo Miller, who is still reluctant to face and lay to rest the ghosts and history of abuse and fear of abandonment still haunting her. But like the saying goes, “La sangre atrae”, the blood calls you back, and Mexico piques Maya’s curiosity to discover the truth about the Hidalgo family legends on the family agave plantation.
Marlenee weaves Maya’s reality seamlessly, transitioning in and out of dreams, leading the reader through and from a cosmic afterlife, often blurring those lines enough for even the main character to question the difference between as she heals and reconciles inner demons and is confronted with harsh truths.
Agave Blues is a well-crafted spirit of family bonds, truth, social emotional healing, and resilience. Marlenee exquisitely reminds us of the importance of familial connections, our stories, and the direct role they play in our personal development. She reminds us that courage is essential when moving forward to a conscious healing process, while keeping aware of the fragility of our hearts.
Joe Armando Lopez was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. Having earned his Bachelor of Arts from Long Beach State and his Masters of Education from Cal State Fullerton, he is now a tenured English Language Arts Teacher for Paramount High School in South Los Angeles.