Vanessa Libertad Garcia's first book, The Voting Booth After Dark: Despicable, Embarrassing, Repulsive (Fiat Libertad Co., 2009), is a slim volume of 23 short pieces, some of them poems, many of them first-person or third-person vignettes that capture a few minutes or hours of a given character's "despicable, embarrassing, or repulsive" life.
Gritty and unflinching, the tone of the book is one of desperation and starkness as each character depicted--Marta, a young, disenchanted lesbian; or Diaz Diaz, a gay fashion designer, for example--speaks to us of their heartbreak, alienation, and sometimes of suicidal plans. The personas that Garcia invokes are products of a society that is too fast-paced, too materialistic, and too shallow for twenty-somethings or thirty-somethings trying to find a meaningful niche in life, as they struggle simultaneously to pay bills, be successful in a career, find true love, or simply forge a connection to someone or something outside of themselves that can make their lives fulfilling. Welcome to the underbelly of Los Angeles.
The voices Garcia creates for each of her personas are poignant and heart-wrenching. She describes "sweet-scented one-dimensional images that pop out at you like an early Warhol painting" (in "Longing"). There is little self-pitying though, no sugarcoating of the raw emotions that spill from her characters, many of whom are gay addicts who have seemingly accepted their sex orientations but nevertheless struggle to navigate life.
Matter-of-fact language, which contributes to the non-judgmental tone of the book and its authenticity, is often balanced against poetic descriptions or observations that catch the reader by surprise. For example: "Parasites of the night, dressed to the 9[`s]/living off the small pints of love/stored in our words" (from "The Dead End Days"). Or: "The sun shuts its lids and the moon clocks in." "Sadness already home invites guilt in for coffee." (both from "Lament").
Yet, amidst the jadedness and sadness are subtle beams of hope for these young lives. In "Compassion" toward the end of the book, Garcia writes: "We are curious children/ with adult powers/that clumsily break the china." She ends her book thus: "The crumbling world/ is always pieced together by time/and space....Justice eventually finds its place in line."
Garcia gives us a glimpse of lives in torment but also reminds us that lives are not frozen in time but are forever evolving, and we must stay open to the possibilities of change.
(Thelma T. Reyna is the author of the new book, THE HEAVENS WEEP FOR US AND OTHER STORIES. Visit Reyna's blog, "American Latina/o Writers Today," at [..] You can also read some of Reyna's writing on another of her blogs, "Latinawriter99," at [..]