Bone Songs: A Novel

Regal House Publishing will be producing my novel Bone Songs in 2017. Here’s a glimpse into the book:

According to Steven Bauer, the professional editor who gave valuable feedback on the manuscript, “Bone Songs is a wildly inventive, consistently engaging, and amusing comic novel, but under its bright exterior lurk darker undertones and truths; it’s a book which attempts to say serious and important things about language, story-telling, mortality, indigenous cultures, love, and sex.”

At its center is a big woman—Curva Peligrosa. Over six feet tall, she is possessed of magical powers, adventurous, amorous, sexual, and fecund. She’s got the greenest of thumbs, creating a tropical habitat in an arctic clime, and she has a wicked trigger finger.

When she rides into the town of Weed, Alberta, she’s like a vision out of a surrealistic western, with her exotic entourage—two dogs, Dios and Diosa, and two parrots, Manuel and Pedro—and her glittering gold tooth, her turquoise rings, her serape and flat-brimmed hat, her rifle and six-shooters. After a long—twenty-year-long—trek up the Old North Trail from Mexico, she’s ready to settle down a bit. Her larger-than-life presence more or less overturns the town of Weed, whose inhabitants have never seen anything like her. She’s a curiosity and a marvel, a source of light and heat, a magnet.

In fact, she’s the physical embodiment of the tornado that will hit Weed two years after her arrival, a storm that turns the place upside down and unearths a trove of bones of those who had lived on the land before the Weedites: Native Americans and prehistoric animals. While the tornado damages Weed and disrupts the lives of its white inhabitants, it provides an opportunity for the relatively feckless (at that point) Billie One-Eye, the putative chief of the local Blackfoot tribe. As he protects the bones and dreams of preserving them, he turns into a true chief when he creates a museum that will honor them.

Curva and Billie share the book with a raft of colorful characters. Borrowing from the literary tradition of South American magic realism, Bone Songs begins with a sentence of commentary on the work of Jorge Luis Borges, and then sets out to illustrate it. As in Borges’s fiction, in Bone Songs, “time is an endless repetition [and] fact and fiction [are] easily confused.” The book hopes to show the reader “that the text one [is] reading [is] no more or less real than the life the reader [is] living.” As Kadeem, one of the characters, says to Curva near the end of the novel, “Nothing is what it seems. Carpets fly. Plants give birth to animals. Characters escape from novels. All this is normal.”

The novel is life affirming in the best sense. It celebrates the natural world in all its majesty, splendor, and surprise, and is filled with vivid descriptions of clouds and rivers, sunsets and moonrises, of the turnings and re-turnings of the seasons, of transformation and transfiguration. Curva exults in that world and distills it in her Garden of Eden, a greenhouse with an ever-burbling fountain where birds and butterflies live amid lush greenery.

It is also both frank and casual about human sexuality. The novel treats it as a great gift and a great opportunity, and it suffuses the book as a human activity, one to celebrate, not to be ashamed of. Curva loves sex, as do most of the novel’s characters; in fact, one of Curva’s functions in the book is to liberate the previously uptight and inhibited inhabitants of Weed.

The novel also celebrates female power. Curva exudes a potent aura of sexuality that draws men near and conquers them, but her abilities and capabilities transcend the categories often seen as gender-specific. She can ride broncos, shoot guns, build houses, survive in the wilderness like a man, and cook, sew, make love, and nurture like a woman. After the death of her fraternal twin brother Xavier, Curva writes him a letter from the trail in which she tells him that she has taken on his identity as a charro. In some respects, Curva, though “all woman,” exhibits the best qualities of both genders.

In the novel, time is a central concern. Again and again we are reminded of the way in which the clock and the hourglass seem to rule the lives of the Weedites, but not the lives of Curva or Billie. As in Berumba, Honduras, during its earlier days before progress and industrialists put the place on the map, so in Curva’s world: “They worked, too, but they also played, work and play intermingled. Every moment a lifetime. Time didn’t dominate. People hardly thought of time passing. Nor did they seem to age.” Curva lives determinedly in the present, and is rewarded by learning that she is constrained neither by time nor by distance. The dead visit her, as do fictional characters of her imagination, both achieving a corporal identity that goes beyond that imagination.

Eventually, Curva’s idealism, her desire to keep Weed pure, clashes with reality when an American drops out of the sky in his two-seater airplane and begins to buy up mineral rights, threatening Curva’s attempts at creating her own Eden. He isn’t the only stranger that visits. Characters from Luis Cardona’s novel Paraíso also appear, as does Xavier, Curva’s dead brother.

And though this is a novel with a positive message and vibe, it is also shot through with sorrow—Curva’s loss of Xavier; the racism of the Weedites toward the Blackfoot; the gradual loss of the native ways of living on the earth; the agricultural heritage of the Canadian plains giving way to the lust for money and the quest for oil.

Bone Songs attempts to bridge North and South America, Natives and whites, Americans and Canadians, urban and country, nature and technology. It pushes the limits of reality, showing how novel reality is and how real a novel can be in how both depict the everyday. Transformations take place in the midst of the ordinary. Characters in novels have their own existence. The dead aren’t really dead after all. Ancient bones have the power to speak and give birth. Semen seeps into the soil and surfaces much later in mysterious ways. Indian skeletons and prehistoric dinosaur bones offer their own view on what’s happening through “Bone Songs.”

A love story, Bone Songs reminds us that life is a mystery, inscrutable, as is art, one reflected in the other, an attempt to articulate what is eternally present and true.

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