Watercolor Women / Opaque Men in Verse

Overview

Watercolor Women / Opaque Men is a wild and raucous narrative of a single, working mother, the daughter of Chicano migrant workers, and her struggles for upward mobility. With a remarkable combination of tenderness, wicked humor, and biting satire, the main character, Ella-or "She"-moves toward establishing her sexual identity (she has affairs with both men and women) and finding her rightful place in the world while simultaneously raising her son to be independent and ...

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Overview

Watercolor Women / Opaque Men is a wild and raucous narrative of a single, working mother, the daughter of Chicano migrant workers, and her struggles for upward mobility. With a remarkable combination of tenderness, wicked humor, and biting satire, the main character, Ella-or "She"-moves toward establishing her sexual identity (she has affairs with both men and women) and finding her rightful place in the world while simultaneously raising her son to be independent and self-sufficient.

Reminiscent of the picaresque novel, Watercolor Women / Opaque Men contains episodes that range from the Mexican Revolution to modern-day Chicago and reflects a deep pride in Chicano culture and the hardships immigrants had to endure: "In my familia we don't / pretend. / We're not / Mixed blood. There are no buried / Spanish titles beneath /anyone's tombstone." Nor does Castillo tolerate the pretensions of others. Pomposity, arrogance, and narrow-mindedness are the targets of her satiric pen.

In a strong rhythmic and colloquial voice, Castillo explores these issues of love, sexual orientation, and cultural identity, taking to heart the words of Mamá Grande: "You will always be your most reliable resource."

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
An epic in verse, the story of Castillo's chicana Everywoman--referred to alternately as "She" and "Ella"--begins life in the rough-and-tumble world of California's migrant farm community. Ella's childhood is spent in los files, or the fields, and she is told early on by Mama Grande that "all men are the same." Rebellious aunt Renata brings her niece to Chicago, where she works a string of blue-collar jobs and attempts to better herself through college classes. After an attempted rape by a biology teacher and harsh words from an art history professor, she trades in college for marriage and baby, but eventually loses interest in her "dutiful husband" and turns to a female cop she meets in a bar. Things sour quickly, but involvement with the "Water Goddess/ Patroness of the Sea/ Governess of the Subconscious" empowers Ella. As the perspective shifts to the first person, Ella, describing herself as "Part Medusa/ Part Mother Goose/ and part Xochiquetzal," draws on all of her personal and cultural resources to raise her son to be different from all the "opaque" men she sees around them. The story and the verse itself offer few surprises, but Castillo (So Far from God) delivers a solid narrative of personal development. (Sept.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
This lively, engaging verse novel details one woman's coming of age, coming to terms with her sexual identity, and coming to self-empowerment in the face of classism and racism. Castillo is a major Chicana author (e.g., Peel My Love Like an Onion), and this work delivers on her previous promise, rendering the reality of the Chicana experience in stark, vivid terms. We see protagonist Ella ("She") take night classes at a local community college, for instance, and negotiate the embedded prejudice of higher education. Castillo is perhaps most effective when she is using irony, and a striking quality of her work is its unblinking courage:"She fits now and belongs to nowhere/ to escape the relentless agony/ of the uninhabited heart,/ in this life or in any other." There are a very few lapses, when the lines verge on feeling like broken prose, but for the most part this work is beautiful and brave-a wonderful contribution both to Chicana literature and to women's literature generally. Highly recommended for both public and academic libraries.-Heidi Arnold, formerly with American Theological Lib. Assn., Vestal, NY Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Novelist and poet Castillo (Father Was a Toltec, 1995, etc.) combines her arts in this "novel in verse."This book should be dedicated to Tezcatlipoca, the god of "Double Meanings." In keeping with her two-gender title and hybrid genre, Castillo tells paired stories of Ella and an unnamed first-person narrator, both bilingual Mexicans who have worked the last two decades in low-paying jobs in El Norte. Brown-skinned and small-bodied Amazons, they use wit and cleverness as arrows to puncture the pretenses, and to halt the advances, of dull men such as the do-gooding "Righteous White Boyz," "The Seminarian" and "Bill-with-the-Baggage." A mother as a teenager, Ella loves women and gay men best. The narrator loves Ella for her unsuspected beauty, her watercolors and her persistence. Initially doubles, these plucky border women turn out to be the same person, whole in the end. Castillo knows the economic and psychological deprivations of immigrant workers and gay minorities, and includes a chapter on the murders of women laboring in Juarez factories, a horror recently covered by the American press. But Ella's plotless sexual adventures, the narrator's digressions and the short lines of Castillo's conversational triplet stanzas-along with the uncertain identities of Ella and the narrator-keep the reader at an emotional distance. An often engaging fusion of Chicana realism and Aztec mythologizing that ultimately lacks weight.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781931896207
  • Publisher: Northwestern University Press
  • Publication date: 9/15/2005
  • Pages: 160
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Ana Castillo is indisputably one of the most important Chicana authors writing today.  Show More She has written 17 books, the most noted being Peel My Love like an Onion and So Far from God. Born in Chicago of working-class parents, she went on to earn a PhD in American studies at the University of Chicago. Both as a journalist and literary author, she has been a major force in the struggle for economic justice, women's rights, and civil liberties. She has also won numerous awards, including the American Book Award, the Carl Sandburg Award, and the Mountains & Plains Booksellers Award. At present, she lives in Anthony, New Mexico.

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Table of Contents

I Ella 1
II The Gods Come Together 4
III Lord and Lady of Sustenance 6
IV Mama Grande 20
V Cipactli: Woman as Monster 31
VI Left-handed Brother 33
VII La Tia Renata 38
VIII Dog Days of Summer '75 41
IX Renacimiento (or, Death to All Dwarf Roosters Who Think They Can Fly) 55
X The Sire 69
XI La Amazona (or, The Eighties in San Francisco 76
XII Governess of the Subconscious 86
XIII El Hijo 102
XIV Suicide 118
XV Mictlan 121
XVI Tonalli 130
XVII In the Jaws of Xolotl 145
XVIII Righteous White Boyz 153
XIX The Archivist 159
XX The Seminarian 166
XXI Baggage 178
XXII Dangerously Happy 187
XXIII Lunar Twin 201
XXIV La Otra 215
XXV A Night Without Stars on the Isthmus 217
XXVI Are Hunters Born or Made? 233
XXVII Mistress of Death 248
XXVIII Between the Aztecs' Pyramids and the Ancient Egyptians' 255
XXIX The Fields 257
XXX Splendor and Obsession 261
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 22, 2009

    verse novel of hardscrabble life of Hispanic woman

    The narrator is a poverty-stricken Hispanic woman named Ella who early in the tale becomes pregnant while having sex 'on a lumpy sack of garlic heads.' Although her fortunes do not improve much from such a fateful, inauspicious moment, she manages to struggle along. Her tale in the form of a long poem broken into chapters describes her varied situations and relationship. The voice is by turns regretful, optimistic, determined, wary, amused, political, introspective. As expected in a poem even though meant as something of a story, description, dialog, and setting of scenes is weak. And characterization too is faint except for the central character of Ella giving the narration. But this is enough for lively snapshots of a Hispanic woman surviving at the margins.

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