'Maria, Maria' a wildly and darkly inventive debut

‘Maria, Maria’ a wildly and darkly inventive debut collection of stories

“Maria, Maria” by Marytza K. Rubio.

The opening story in this wildly and darkly inventive collection “Maria, Maria and Other Stories” is “Brujería for Beginners,” a community college class. Brujería? Spanish for black magic?

The story’s protagonist/guide is the teacher. She/he – gender unclear – discourages using the term black magic because “it’s devoid of context. I would call it spiritual vigilantism or expedited karma.”

So try to get ready, class. The teacher prepares the students for what’s coming, namely the (nonfinancial) cost of taking the class: “The darkness demands a payment that strips the protective layer of your spirit and invites pain and harm in unexpected manifestations.”

Oh, oh, be careful where you tread.

Marytza K. Rubio

That advice is also relevant before reading the story “Tijuca.” In it, Ada the Wife becomes Ada the Executioner, a word with a double meaning. One meaning requires Ada to execute her late husband Armand’s instructions.

First thing, Ada calls Tomas, the brujo/immigration lawyer, who provides Ada with a machete for a post-mortem beheading. Armand wanted his head to be buried in the soil of Brazil’s Tijuca Forest and Ada the Widow promised she’d stay with his remains in the jungle for the rest of her life. But will she?

There are six images with accompanying text in the story “Art Show.” It reveals a vigorous sense of humor of Mexican American author and artist, Marytza K. Rubio. Herein are the power of animals.

In one “Art Show” vignette, “The Almost Philandering Fox,” (in the East Gallery) Rubio endows the fox with anthropomorphic qualities as skillfully as Lewis Carroll had done with characters in “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”

Rubio’s imagination joyfully injects art into the text of this and several other stories, art that can be interactive. Why not? The title story, which curiously appears at the back of the book, has five pages explaining the making of origami.

The three-page story “Paint by the Numbers” bridges art and literature.

If readers themselves want to paint, they would benefit by enlarging the image of this story’s “death-feigning” beetle and paint in the colors as Rubio prescribes. Nine of the colors of the beetle’s parts are designated shades of blue.

However, Rubio offers unexpected political perspectives linked to the colors. Here are several of those perspectives: “2. The deep navy blue uniform that is a cloak of impunity. 3. The green-hued blue veins visible on the inner forearm, holding the gun steady. Practice makes perfect. 4. Blue-violet of the bruise that forms around where the bullet enters the body. …”

The beetle is mysteriously transformed into a death-feigning man.

Rubio effectively employs colors to raise the excitement level of the stories’ narratives. Her seemingly boundless creative powers take readers on roller coaster rides from fire to haziness to gloomy darkness.

Rubio occasionally and easily drops short phrases in Spanish in the book’s predominantly English text. They remind readers of the author’s cross-cultural interests. The closing story “Maria, Maria” ends with these two rousing Spanglish sentences: “Alguien echó un grito and the viejitos returned the shout. We exploded into a rowdy tamborazo and welcomed back the night.”

“Maria, Maria and Other Stories” is Rubio’s fiction debut. She is the recipient of a PEN America Emerging Voices Fellowship and is the founder of the Makara Center for the Arts in Santa Ana, California, her hometown.

A blurb on the book’s back dust cover by author Kimberly King Parsons declares that (the book) “is pure magic: fearless, funny and endlessly original. Full of dark wit and sparkling charm, this is a shimmering portal of a book. Marytza K. Rubio is an absolute master of the fantastic.”

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