No One Will
See Me Cry

Cristina Rivera-Garza
Joaquín Buitrago lives in the turn of the 20th Century Mexico. He is a photographer of prostitutes, prisoners, the mad, and what he refers to as "absences."

Through the years he has come to know Matilda Burgos, first as a whore photographed in the San Andrés Hotel, later as a lunatic photographed in La Castañeda Insane Asylum.

They fall, in their own mad way, in love --- albeit, like all of us who move reluctantly into middle age --- carrying a fair amount of baggage from past loves. She grew up poor, came at age thirteen to support herself in Mexico City. He left his upper-class doctor father family to become an itinerant photographer, and, somewhere along the way, to pick up the morphine habit.

Ms. Rivera-Garza's story is convoluted, some might think, unnecessarily so. It dips back and forth in time and in the narratives of the main characters. Despite that, she has a startling ability to make these characters come alive for us and, at the same time, to give us vivid pictures out of Revolutionary and post-Revolutionary Mexico. This is Cástulo, the young radical that Matilda meets at the cigarette factory where she works:

    Cástulo's body is impregnated by the smell of tobacco that is left on him by his twelve hours standing before the machines of the Buen Tono factory; five and a half billion cigarettes a year. There are nicotine stains between the index and middle fingers of his right hand. A yellow-green half moon. Naked, he looks even younger, even more fragile. The bones of his clavicles and ribs look like low dunes in the desert of his skin...

    "What day is today?"

    "Tuesday." The whisper tickles his left ear. "February 1906."

    "Always so precise, Matilda. I will remember that," he says before he closes his eyes and peacefully enters the cave of sleep, "later."

Like all good novels that tells of revolutions (mental and national; within and without), No One Will See Me Cry has its cycles. Matilda's madness, along with her various love affairs, are described wonderfully well. When she is not going through her manic stages, she is an omnivorous lover, falling in love with the lovely piano-playing La Diamantina; falling for another prostitute with the exact same name; then there is her passion for Cástulo, the young rabble-rouser; and, finally, her deepest love for the visionary miner Paul Kamàck, who falls in love not so much with her, as with the silver mines of Real de Catorce:

    He got off at the Vanegas station. The dry landscape, covered with plants whose names he did not know, looked to him like paradise itself. In the dry wind that ruffled his hair he could almost smell the silver many meters below ground. The mines names made his head spin, as though he were dreaming. La Purisma. The Philosopher's Stone. The Hog Burrow Shaft. Santa Edwige.

And then there is the photographer Joaquín Buitrago. A man who, during the war, did not go out to seek the "revolutionaries or their female camp followers or massacres:"

    Instead, he devoted himself to taking photographs of absences. A chair, the wrinkled outline in the seat of someone who just got up. A cup of coffee with a dark lip-print on the rim. An empty swing seat still moving. The half-open pages of a book. A lighted cigarette.

§     §     §

We who read and cogitate always strive to seek the theme of a book, no? At least, those of us who write of books for a living do so. We are often fuddled by the likes of No One Will See Me Cry. Aren't there too many themes. Or maybe there are too few. Revolution, early photography, lesbianism, mad love, madness itself, locking in things with pictures, jails, Mexico so long ago, the beauty of the desert, seeking one's fortune (in the beautiful desert, in the ugly city). I suppose this noodling about is not unlike the "absences" that Joaquín shoots with his camera. There are absences here, which turn out to be as powerful as that which is told. I suppose it could best be found with Matilda and any one of her loves --- Cásturo, Joaquín, the two La Diamantinas, the mad miner:

    Love cannot be told. Love is evil. It is made of insipid gestures and habits hard to break. Love is the years that pass, one after another, unvarying. In the desert, love is a plain on which nothing grows, a mine that spits out silver from time to time, a parish priest who is dying, a constant scarcity of water. Love is what is under the tongue when it is dry, the thing beside one's footsteps when they are unheard. Love is a weeping willow in one corner of the Venado cemetery and the open ruins of the Diezmo building beside the town hall. Love is a popular song, or perhaps not quite a song at all.

Rivera-Garza is good. Some of her scenes leave one begging for more. The description of love that, as all love, cannot be defined is as rich as her descriptions of the other loves that pervades the novel, no less addicting than Joaquín's mad love of morphine.

--- José Calveros

Ring Around
The Bases

The Complete
Baseball Stories
Of Ring Lardner

Matthew J. Bruccoli,

(University of South Carolina)
Despite his august appearance and no-nonsense gaze, Ring Lardner's writings were anything but effete and were certainly filled with nonsense.

He got his start doing sports columns for the South Bend (Indiana) Times, and went on to a regular column at the Chicago Tribune during the days of the slightly daffy Col. McCormick. Additional stories appeared in The Saturday Evening Post and McClures and were reprinted in book form to great acclaim.

Editor Bruccoli has collected almost forty here and I would be fooling you if I said I had gone through them all. Lardner is not an easy read. For one thing, he was fond of writing in the idiom --- mostly that other world, that other language of the Mid-America leagues from so long ago. This is anything but easy on the eyes, and certainly less on the ears. For example, the opening lines of "The Battle of Texas:"

    FRIEND AL: Well Al I am writeing this on the old rattler bound for sunny Texas and a man has got to write letters or something or you would gap yourself to death. The don't have no more poker game Al but just some baby game like rummy that may be O. K. for birds that has spent all their life at some X roads but take a man like I that was over in France and polayed in the big game and it kind of sets up a man's stomach to watch a bunch of growed up men popping their eyes out for the fear that they might maybe have a picture card left in their hand when some other bird lays down their cards.

It's a heavy dose of regionalism intermixed with the locution of the time most of which have to do with "girls" or hooch or eating or chit-chat between the players (with endless practical jokes) or trains --- "rattlers" --- or baseball: "...twice I have beat St. Louis and it don't look like I was never going to stop. They got 2 runs off of me today but it was after we had 7 and had them licked and I kind of eased up to save the old souper for the Cleveland serious. But I wished you could of heard the 1 I pulled on Cobb. You know I have always kind of had him on the run ever since I come in the league and he would as leaf have fallen archs as see me walk out there to pitch."

One would have to be some sort of a baseball fanatic to get through Ring Around the Bases. It weighs in at two or three pounds, well over 600 pages. At the same time, the subtle undertones that were to blossom in Lardner's later writings --- viz. "Haircut" with its portrayal of that easy brutality of small town America --- make an early appearance here and there in this volume.

"Hurry Kane" is the story of a country boy who walks like he "was afraid of stepping on burrs." "Everybody was in hysterics watching him make that first trip [to the mound."] But then,

    All of a sudden, without no warning, he whammed a fast ball acrost that old plate that blew Tierney's cap off and pretty near knocked me down. Tierney hollered murder and ran for the bench. All of us were pop-eyed and it was quite a while before Dave could speak.

Most of Lardner's stories come up with startling changes, revelations not unlike this one. In "Hurry Kane," the country galoot turns out to have a super fast ball. In "The Battle of Texas," Jack --- the illiterate letter writer --- shows that he has a way with the ladies, especially one from St. Louis by the name of Miss Krug who seems to be chasing him. Until, that is, she learns that he is married to Florrie, with a little one, also named Florrie.

And, in "My Roomy," Elliott is "a whale of a hitter and fast as Cobb" ... even though he turns out to be mad as a hatter. He wakes up at two in the morning and belts out his raucous version of "Silver Threads Among the Gold" (his roommate finally tells him, "Don't sing in this hotel, because we won't want to get fired out o' here --- the eats too good.") When Elliott gets a letter from his girl friend he tears it up ("she can't tell me nothin' I don't know already") but when he arrives home and finds she has married another man,

    he went to the place where they was livin' with a baseball bat and very near killed 'em both. Then he marched down the street singin' "Silver Threads Among the Gold."

§     §     §

Included here are some comic strips Lardner did with Will B. Johnstone, along with a song he wrote, "Gee! It's a Wonderful Game," several epistolary stories, and even a play. But after twelve years, Lardner grew impatient with baseball writing, and in 1919, he was able to branch out into general fiction. After that, he wrote only two more baseball stories.

That he was a genius, there is no doubt: even in the roughest tales we are immersed in the feel of mid-America, and the raggedy sports of the early 20th Century. As Ring Lardner Jr. points out in his "Foreward," baseball "was practically the only game in town." This volume is a must for those who care for American baseball and its early raucous and somewhat uncouth history.

--- C. J. Wrenn

Secret Lives
Of Second Wives

Catherine Todd
Lynn Bartlett is an immigration lawyer. Her husband Jack is a corporate lawyer. His two children from his previous marriage are Meredith, a whole-food nut, and Patrick, a depressive.

They all live in the Peninsula --- that complex of expensive towns stretching south of San Francisco. There is some talk here of Lynn and Jack buying a $5,000,000 home. (Five million dollars. But this is the Bay Area, after all, and they are both lawyers).

Siblings Meredith and Patrick, it appears, not only don't like Lynn, they seem to be trying to sabotage the marriage: Meredith by being catty, Patrick by moving in with them and having parties with his noisy friends (and running over Lynn's favorite cat).

Meredith wants to get married, and she wants an expensive wedding. Janet, his ex, wants Jack to pay for it. Jack doesn't know how to say no. Meanwhile Lynn's law business is falling apart. Her partner Harrison had been cheating on INS forms. The INS finds out. So Lynn begins an affair with one of the firm's clients, Alexei, a famous Russian physicist who went into hiding after Chernobyl and tells knock-knock jokes.

This is all mildly interesting, and author Todd is no klutz with the give-and-take of dialogues. For example, in a key scene first wife Janet invites herself to lunch with reluctant second wife Lynn. Here are wives #1 and #2 discussing Patrick, the depressive. Lynn says,

    "I'm happy to have Patrick living with us for the time being, but I think his mood has very little to do with me."

    "Then you aren't the one who imposed the time limit?" she asked pointedly.

    I flushed. I couldn't believe Jack would have told her that, so Patrick must have assumed it. "It was a mutual decision," I said, in what I hoped was a tone indicating that the subject was closed. "Thank you for your thoughts. I'll bear them in mind. And, of course, if he feels too uncomfortable, you can always invite him to live with you."

    She parried my thrust with a shrug. "I'm just trying to be honest. I thought you'd appreciate that."

    I've noticed that people who say unpleasant things often defend them on the grounds, as if that were some kind of ultimate justification, like an appeal to the Ten Commandments. It's useless to argue with those who are determined to feel themselves your moral superior, however speciously. More to the point, she didn't respond to the suggestion that she might take her son in herself, but in her case I would have pretended not to hear it either. I looked desperately for the waiter, who was, of course, no where to be found. I wondered how we were going to get through the rest of this lunch.

Fast dialogue. Up-to-date financial stuff (the end of the dot-com stock boom). Trying to buy a Bay Area home in today's market. First marriage and second marriage conflicts. In-laws and step-children. Uncommunicative husbands. Gossipy children. Secret Lives could be a primer for one who wants to find out about INS - immigration procedures and the reality of green cards.

But when you deduct the lawyer talk, drop the Oprah/Jay Leno smart-ass dialogue, strip away the tofu and Napa wineries, you have a television soap for people who read --- something for those who are just out of the toils of MTV but not yet in the arms of senility. It's a Harlequin romance filled with perky back-and-forths, a New Romance Comic for the suburban set.

It thus becomes escape for people who want, for a few hours, to get away from the suspicious gloom that has settled over America in the first part of the first decade of the 21st Century.

Towards the end, when author Todd begins twisting the plot (and the characters' arms) to produce a happy ending, we know that we've dipped into just another imprint out of the New York publishing bucket shop. Not only is Alexei shipped off to (literally) save the world, Janet comes to find that bitchy daughter Meredith, bitchy first-wife Janet, passive-aggressive Patrick, and don't-rock-the-boat Jack are really OK after all, and that "I'd probably always known, down deep, that Alexei would go back, as he had known before I did that I'd stay with Jack."

To prove that our author (and the readers) are not complete dunces, there are several references to Anna Karenina. Too bad that Todd didn't follow through. An Anna of America 2003 would have been something to read (and write home) about.

--- R. D. Sealy

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