An L.A. story, in incidents and rhythms: A review of The Book of Want

 

The Book of Want: A Novel
Daniel A. Olivas
144 pages, softcover: $16.95.
University of Arizona Press, 2011.

"I want ... I want everything. Everything that makes life beautiful." So says Conchita, one of the many characters in Los Angeles writer Daniel Olivas' The Book of Want. That Conchita is a voluptuous, amorous, unmarried 62-year-old with a penchant for tamales in the morning may tell you something about the world of this novel. The fact that her new boyfriend, Moisés, the widower next door, can levitate, or that her chain-smoking dead mother, Belén, visits her at night will tell you even more. Not to mention the notion that God sometimes communicates through a chicken.

The grandson of Mexican immigrants, Olivas is emerging as an important voice in the social and magical realist tradition of Luis Alberto Urrea, Gabriel García Márquez and Sandra Cisneros. In his sixth book and first novel, Olivas writes about the hard-to-explain and the miraculous. He explores loss and pleasure, the hunger for knowledge, questions about identity, sex, love, truth, money, transcendence.

The Book of Want is a tapestry of braided vignettes. The same scene may be described twice, from different perspectives. At times, the reader feels as if she is Belén, the omnipotent family matriarch, peering down at her progeny from heaven, watching their lives unfold, occasionally swooping down into their dreams to offer advice or warning. The plotlines are loose, fast and unpredictable. Some stories feel resolved; others leave you wanting more. Olivas plays with his narrative form, employing the techniques of meta-fiction: Witness the behind-the-scenes interview transcript between a reporter and some of the novel's fringe characters. Elsewhere, he writes out conversations via text-message, and in the chapter titled "How to Date a Flying Mexican," he breaks the narrative down into a series of rules. Rule number three: "Do not conduct Internet research on your lover's levitation skills. What you find will only cause great agitation and make you perspire profusely. Sometimes controlled ignorance is the only way to get through life." Olivas' prose is rich but simple, colorful and sometimes irreverent -- as whimsical and likeable as his characters. You will find yourself rooting for these people; you will even find yourself wanting for them.

High Country News Classifieds
  • DESCHUTES LAND TRUST EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Deschutes Land Trust, based in Bend, Oregon, seeks a collaborative and strategic Executive Director to lead us in pursuing our mission: to conserve and care...
  • DEVELOPMENT MANAGER
    Job Title: Development Manager Supervisor: Senior Director of Development Effective Date: May 17, 2021 Job Status: Full-time (40 hours/week), exempt Location: Within the Colorado Plateau...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR AT FRIENDS OF CEDAR MESA
    - The Land, History, and People of the Bears Ears Region - The Bears Ears and Cedar Mesa region is one of the most beautiful,...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Job Title: Executive Director Reports To: Board of Directors Compensation: $75,000 to $80,000, plus generous benefits and paid leave. Funding for relocation expenses available. Classification:...
  • WATER DIRECTOR
    Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis. Application review will begin on April 2, 2021 and will continue until the position has been filled....
  • CLIMATE JUSTICE FELLOW
    High Country News, an award-winning magazine covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks applicants for a climate justice fellowship. The fellowship...
  • VIRGINIA SPENCER DAVIS FELLOWSHIP
    High Country News, an award-winning magazine covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, is offering a fellowship for early-career journalists interested in...
  • COLORADO WILD PUBLIC LANDS VIDEO CONTEST
    Please submit your video of 30 seconds or less, taken on public lands, to [email protected] by May 15th for a chance to win in one...
  • WMAN NETWORK COORDINATOR
    WESTERN MINING ACTION NETWORK (WMAN) CONTRACT OPPORTUNITY CLOSING DATE: Feb. 19, 2021 WMAN is seeking a team member to coordinate the various network activities to...
  • FRIENDS OF THE INYO IS HIRING TRAIL AMBASSADORS FOR THE SUMMER OF 2021
    Friends of the Inyo's Trail Ambassadors (TAs) support the Inyo, Sierra, & Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forests and other partners by providing positive public service, outreach, interpretation,...
  • LAND & CABIN ON CO/ UT LINE
    18 ac w/small solar ready cabin. Off grid, no well. Great RV location. Surrounded by state wildlife area and nat'l parks.
  • MANAGER PERMACULTURE LANDSCAPE CONTRACTOR
    Permaculture / Landscape Company Manager / Site Lead Red Ant Works, Inc. - 20+ year landscape construction and horticultural care company seeks manager and site...
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Field seminars for adults in natural and human history of the Colorado Plateau with lodge, river trip and base camp options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER
    San Juan Citizens Alliance is looking for a passionate, dynamic, organized, and technology-savvy communications professional to help grow our membership and presence in the Four...
  • ENERGY AND CLIMATE PROGRAM ASSOCIATE
    San Juan Citizens Alliance seeks an Energy and Climate Program Associate to focus on public outreach, education and organizing to advance campaigns to mitigate climate...
  • REAL ESTATE SPECIALIST
    This position provides professional real estate services and is responsible for managing and completing real estate projects utilizing a project management database that is designed...
  • WILDFIRE MITIGATION SPECIALIST
    The Wildfire Mitigation Specialist is responsible for delivering wildfire risk mitigation information, recommendations and programmatic resources to wildland urban interface homeowners, community members and partners....
  • DEVELOPMENT POSITIONS
    Thorne Nature Experience is hiring for a Development Director and Senior Individual Giving Manager. Individuals will work collaboratively with Thorne's Executive Director to develop and...
  • SENIOR PROGRAM MANAGER, LANDSCAPE CONSERVATION & ENERGY
    The National Parks Conservation Association, a 100-year-old nonprofit advocacy organization and the nation's leading voice for national parks seeks a Senior Program Manager, Landscape Conservation...
  • BACKCOUNTRY AND FRONTCOUNTRY STEWARDSHIP CREW MEMBERS
    The San Juan Mountains Association (SJMA) is hiring a crew of ambassadors to work in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service to educate visitors on...