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It has a quiet patina
that both absorbs and reflects
like a valuable instrument
you have to sign for
– contract with alone –
and at the end of the voyage
you get to keep.
-From “Solitude”, by Caroline Caddy
A writer’s relationship with solitude is paradoxical. Alone time is necessary for completing work, yet if writing is done correctly, it can create a sense of global community that inspires solidarity. If done well, an otherwise insular experience relayed through a story can make the personal and intimate something universal and poignant, something that speaks to the human condition with authority and grace. I think here of the poetry of Nikki Finney, who wrote in her book of poems Head Off & Split about the experience of the devastation of Katrina as a working class Black woman in such a way that the book spoke across the disparity of sociopolitical differences.
It’s a gift when we find books like these. They are treasures where we can find our hardest experiences laid bare in front of us, as if to say, drink deeply and feel assured. Such is the case with Ana Castillo’s book Give It to Me. A gritty, yet humorous, book with unflinchingly honest characters, the novel follows protagonist Palma Piedras, a forty-three year old Latina divorcee who ignites an intensely deep sexual obsession with her cousin Pepito. Through the lens of Palma’s positionality (her upbringing with Pepito in their grandmother’s house, her failed marriage to an abusive man, her artistic aspirations, and her single, transient lifestyle complete with a cavalier house cat), the reader is invited into her world where everything, including the scenery, has a razor-sharp edge.
In Palma’s world, everything glitters hard and nothing is beautiful. Even when Palma experiences beauty, she does so in a way that is brutal, juxtaposing the shape of a woman’s face with hard cement, or her love of her cousin to dying animals. Her approach to life is nothing if not realistic; it is through her eyes that we sense the debilitating loneliness of urbanity, the sharper side of solitude:
I love you, Pepito said, with a voice that nearly sounded as if he had left his body. A macho had to be the loneliest creature on earth. He never let anyone in. Women mistook the aloofness as the result of a man being wounded. Pobrecito, they said. And like the snake the old lady cared for, which once it was healed…people were surprised when they got hurt by such a man. Pepito’s upbringing was no better or worse than anyone else’s, but the macho could not let people get close because he perceived himself at war with the world. Go to hell, she said.
Throughout the book, whenever Palma turns an eye to Pepito, she is really throwing the magnifying glass on herself—Palma, the eternally lonely, of the broken childhood, of the complicated affairs with her cousin and the women who wreck through her life like monsoons, drowning her in sorrow. And like the trope or archetype of the ‘macho’, she too affects a hard front to the world, makes herself a snake who charms and bites those who feed her. So, in essence, the story is about a love of self in a world of solitude—for the ways we see ourselves reflected in others, and how we are when we are our most self-intimate. It is a story about complicated love, the taboo of desire (desire being ‘of the stars’, from French), and survival. A must-read for all of us out there who have seen it all, and lived.
Give It To Me
By Ana Castillo
The Feminist Press
Hardcover, 9781558618503, 256 pp.