The opening story of this wildly and darkly inventive “Maria, Maria and Other Stories” collection is “Brujería for Beginners,” a community college class. Brujeria? Spanish for black magic?
The protagonist/guide of the story is the teacher. She/he – the gender is unclear – discourages the use of the term black magic because “it’s without context. I would call it spiritual vigilance or accelerated karma.
So try to prepare, class. The teacher prepares the students for what is to come, namely the cost (non-financial) of taking the course: “The darkness demands a payment that removes the protective layer from your mind and invites pain and evil into unexpected events.”
Oh, oh, watch where you step.
This advice is also relevant before reading the “Tijuca” story. In this one, Ada the woman becomes Ada the executioner, a word with a double meaning. A service demands that Ada carry out the instructions of her late husband Armand.
First, Ada calls Tomas, the brujo/immigration lawyer, who provides Ada with a machete for a post-mortem decapitation. Armand wanted his head buried in the Brazilian forest floor of Tijuca and Ada the widow promised that she would stay with her remains in the jungle for the rest of her life. But will she?
There are six images with accompanying text in the “Art Show” story. It reveals a vigorous sense of humor from Mexican American author and artist, Marytza K. Rubio. Therein lies the power of animals.
In an “Art Show” vignette, “The Almost Philandering Fox”, (in the East Gallery), Rubio imparts anthropomorphic qualities to the fox 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 story and several others, art that can be interactive. Why not? The title story, which curiously appears at the end of the book, has five pages explaining how origami is made.
The three-page story “Paint by the Numbers” connects art and literature.
If the readers themselves want to paint, they would benefit from enlarging the image of the “simulating death” scarab from this story and painting in the colors prescribed by Rubio. Nine of the colors of the beetle’s parts are designated shades of blue.
However, Rubio offers unexpected color-related political insights. Here are some of those perspectives: “2. The deep navy blue uniform that is a cloak of impunity. 3. The blue veins with green tints visible on the inside of the forearm, which hold the gun steady. It is practice makes perfect. 4. Blue-purple bruising that forms around where the bullet enters the body. …”
The beetle is mysteriously transformed into a man simulating death.
Rubio effectively uses colors to heighten the excitement level of storytelling. His seemingly limitless creative powers take readers on a roller coaster ride from fire to blur to gloomy darkness.
Rubio occasionally and easily drops short Spanish sentences into the mostly English text of the book. They remind readers of the author’s cross-cultural interests. The final story “Maria, Maria” ends with these two catchy lines in Spanglish: “Alguien echó un grito and the viejitos gave back the cry. We exploded in a rowdy tamborazo and welcomed the night.
“Maria, Maria and other stories” is Rubio’s first novel. She is a 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 cover by author Kimberly King Parsons states that (the book) “is pure magic: fearless, funny, and endlessly original.” Full of dark wit and sparkling charm, it’s a shimmering portal from a book. Marytza K. Rubio is an absolute master of fantasy.