The Book of Want: A Novel
Daniel A. Olivas University of Arizona Press, 2011 Library of Congress PS3615.L58B66 2011 | Dewey Decimal 813.6
When Moses descended Mount Sinai carrying the Ten Commandments, he never could have foreseen how one family in Los Angeles in the early twenty-first century would struggle to live by them.
Conchita, a voluptuous, headstrong single woman of a certain age, sees nothing wrong with enjoying the company of handsome—and usually much younger—men . . . that is, until she encounters a widower with unusual gifts and begins to think about what she really wants out of life.
Julieta, Conchita’s younger sister, walks a more traditional path, but she and her husband each harbor secrets that could change their marriage and their lives forever. Their twin sons, both in college, struggle to find fulfillment. Mateo refuses to let anyone stand in the way of his happiness, while Rolando grapples with his sexuality and the family’s expectations. And from time to time, Belén, the family’s late matriarch, pays a visit to advise, scold, or cajole her hapless descendants.
A delightful family tapestry woven with the threads of all those whose lives are touched by Conchita, The Book of Want is an enchanting blend of social and magical realism that tells a charming story about what it means to be fully human.
During the pandemic and in the wake of his father’s death, Daniel A. Olivas set upon the task of reviewing almost 25 years’ worth of his short stories that had been published in various collections or as parts of novels. Our strange times seemed to call for this type of introspection and examination. He found that many of his narratives fell within the world of magic, fairy tales, fables, and dystopian futures. This review also revealed that many of his fictions confronted—either directly or obliquely—questions of morality, justice, and self-determination while being deeply steeped in Chicano and Mexican culture. Olivas decided to choose his favorite tales from the many scores of stories that populated his published works. He added to the mix two recent stories—one dystopian, the other magical—both of which confront the last administration’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies. The result is How to Date a Flying Mexican: New and Collected Stories. Though his books have been taught in colleges and high schools across the country for over two decades, this collection brings together some of his most unforgettable strange tales that will be enjoyed, again, by his fans, and anew for readers who have not, as yet, experienced Olivas’s distinct—and very Chicano—fiction. A literary critic once called Olivas a “literary marvel.” These stories, collectively, offer ample support for this declaration.
Wanderers and writers, gangbangers and lawyers, dreamers and devils. The King of Lighting Fixtures paints an idiosyncratic but honest portrait of Los Angeles, depicting how the city both entrances and confounds. Each story serves as a reflection of Daniel A. Olivas’s grand City of Angels, a “magical metropolis where dreams come true.”
The characters here represent all walks of L.A. life—from Satan’s reluctant Craigslist roommate to a young girl coping with trauma at her brother’s wake—and their tales ebb and flow among various styles, including magical realism, social realism, and speculative fiction. Like a jazz album, they glide and bop, tease and illuminate, sadden and hearten as they navigate effortlessly from meta to fabulist, from flash fiction to longer, more complex narratives.
These are literary sketches of a Los Angeles that will surprise, connect, and disrupt readers wherever they may live.