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Reviewed by:
  • Latinx Theater in the Times of Neoliberalism by Patricia A. Ybarra, and: Permissible Narratives: The Promise of Latino/a Literature by Christopher González
  • Allison Fagan (bio)
Latinx Theater in the Times of Neoliberalism. Patricia A. Ybarra. Northwestern UP, 2018. vi + 247 pages. $99.95 cloth; $34.95 paper.
Permissible Narratives: The Promise of Latino/a Literature. Christopher González. Ohio State UP, 2017. vi + 194 pages. $129.95 hardcover; $29.95 paper.

As the titles of their work suggest, Patricia A. Ybarra's Latinx Theater in the Times of Neoliberalism and Christopher González's Permissible Narratives: The Promise of Latino/a Literature engage with two different genres of contemporary Latinx writing: respectively interrogating drama and narrative prose, they offer complementary examinations of what it means and what it looks like to challenge audience expectations for both form and content, to insist on the transformative potential of a literature that is in the process of unmooring itself from the foundations upon which we expect such transformations to take place. While González's study of Latinx novels ranges across the late 1960s up through the second decade of the twenty-first century, Ybarra's examination of Latinx plays is more narrowly focused on plays written between 1992 and the present. These parameters enable each writer to frame the formal innovations they chart against the backdrop of discernible historical changes without sacrificing their ability to address their selected texts' inclination to critique, if not reject, notions of progressive or linear time. Each scholar is also invested in addressing the ways that the narratives and dramatic productions specifically respond to literary precedents and audience expectations for a fidelity to realism both on the stage and on the page, and perhaps more specifically a realism dedicated to narrating the liberal and ethnic subject for whom questions of individual identity and the search for autonomous selfhood are central. The texts Ybarra and González undertake to explore, by writers and playwrights ranging from Gloria Anzaldúa to Coco Fusco and from Gilbert Hernandez to Octavio Solis, resist and thereby conspire to rewrite those expectations, quite frequently in ways that draw attention to the artificiality—and the artifactuality—of the text itself. Whether that exposure to artificiality comes in the form of narrative, textual, and paratextual play or an [End Page 197] amped up theatricality, the result is, from the perspectives offered by these two remarkable and valuable contributions to the field of Latinx literary studies, a challenge to audiences in the midst of the crises of the contemporary moment "to imagine the way out, instead of seeing it represented before us" (Ybarra 198).

The writers González discusses in Permissible Narratives challenge audiences to imagine a way out of confining or restrictive definitions of Latinx literature that rely on "being manacled to … earlier narrative forms" (2). González contextualizes the trajectory of much of Latinx literature as an ouroboros wherein Latinx writers produce the literary forms readers expect, in turn reinforcing a narrow, limited reader expectation for what a Latinx literary work can and should be. While arguing that the lens of identity politics through which much of Latinx literature has been read "has borne some interesting and suggestive fruit" (8), González suggests that the dominance of such readings to the exclusion of attention to formalist concerns risks prioritizing an author's identity over the content and narrative design of her work, preventing a more thorough examination of the ways audience expectations can be met or thwarted by writers of Latinx literature. At first it seems slightly paradoxical to claim that he "do[es] not wish to pursue an identity-based examination of Latino/a literature" (11) given that the adjective "Latino/a" necessarily connotes a particular and often political identity. However, such a paradox seems to be at the heart of this project: drawing on narrative, reception, and cognitive theory, Permissible Narratives underscores formal innovations as textual resistances to audience expectations that both depend on and subvert given understandings of Latinx identity and Latinx literariness. Each of the four formal innovations to which the study is devoted—ontological blurring, code-switching and bilingualism, subverting the space-time continuum, and...


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pp. 197-201
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