- The Road to Llorona Park by Christopher Carmona
By Christopher Carmona
Nacogdoches, TX: Stephen F. Austin State UP, 2016. 148 pp. ISBN: 978-1-62288-117-8
With the thoughtful short-story collection, The Road to Llorona Park, Christopher Carmona has contributed his own chapter to the traditional "defenses of literature," which justifies fiction for presenting models of principled (or unprincipled) conduct that offer ethical guidance: as Kenneth Burke puts it, literature proffers equipment for living. In a set of vivid episodes and character studies, Carmona makes a notable addendum to this tradition. For him stories are independent forces famished for lodgment in the mind and in the physical action of a vigilant, careful, and caring intelligence.
This central theme structures the opening tale, "What the Story Eats," in which three street children, brothers Ramses and Moises, and a girl, Tzipora, meet La Anciana, who—in classic fairy-tale mode—dwells by a river beneath a bridge and hungers for "living stories" that will sustain her. Carmona associates this aged crone with the fairy-tale figure "La Llorona," the weeping woman of Mexican folklore who drowns children, except Carmona adds a crucial humanizing caveat: La Anciana is "more Indian" (11). The children's names suggest we have entered the zone of fable as they echo Cecil B. DeMille's fanciful telling of the Moses story in his 1956 film, The Ten Commandments, in which Moses, married to Zipporah, resists the tyranny of his brother, the Pharoah Ramses. Carmona's ironic film analogy brings symbolic density to the brothers' early-pubescent rivalry over Tzipora, but also suggests a more serious theme: the life-giving stories sought by La Anciana have a larger mythopoeic potential to shape entire cultures. This is suggested in the way she communicates with Moises and Tziporah in a language that remains incomprehensible to Ramses and an outside observer, a news reporter. The journalist has been dispatched to write a human interest story that he sneeringly regards as ephemeral rubbish about street urchins surviving by selling chewing gum (eating without nutrition). The children and the old woman know better, however; their world demands fresh stories that will rejuvenate its inhabitants. In Carmona's cardinal metaphor, even the stories by an obtuse journalist may devour readers in a moment of shared consumption to assuage their common hunger.
Throughout the book, Carmona associates female figures with the stories. Like the old woman under the bridge, these women hover at boundaries that give them an ambiguous existence. They readily cross and re-cross boundaries of life and death, of male and female gender, of national location, and of language. Every boundary crossing provokes a need for appropriate linguistic performance (a story, a poem, a legal brief, a comforting conversation) that will breathe fresh life into the reality of their perpetual exile. When forging those connections succeeds, the resulting mutual understanding and communication allays the disquiet of estrangement and loss.
Carmona extends his association of La Llorona beyond La Anciana to all of these shape-shifting female figures. But Carmona's own narratives aim to reshape the tragic implications of the Llorona myth by developing some striking and very smart variations of the archetype. Parallel to Chicanx feminists who have transvalued the negative traditional images of women to ascribe virtue and strength to figures formerly ridiculed or denigrated, Carmona aims for understanding that the triumph, irony, endurance, and erotic passion of his characters are key elements in their continual metamorphosis and reinvention. Carmona's incarnations of Llorona annul her reputation as the feared "stealer of children" and mutate into various guises that promise to transcend the tragic dead end of the original folktale. For example, in one of the more arresting tales, "The Sublime Dress," a beautiful female outcast composes a story about a red dress hanging on her lover's wall, a story that transfigures the clothing (another costume, a form waiting to give shape and grace to a body) into a vibrant representation of the two lovers' yearnings and dreams.
In the eponymous story at the book's center, Carmona further elaborates the Llorona...