Thirteen Senses is an authentically absorbing story. Continuing the thread of the bestselling Rain of Gold, the memoir recounts the long and frequently stormy marriage of Villasenor's immigrant parents, the unforgettable and
apparently unrelenting Salvador and Lupe. This vividly rendered story once again justifies the author's decision to return a $75,000 advance for a novel so that he might present his family saga as the gripping true story it is.
Fans of Villasenor's admirable family epic, Rain of Gold (Arte Publico, 1991) will be hard-pressed to wade through this massive, workmanlike sequel. The book's humorous opening at the 50th-anniversary renewal of Villasenor's parents' wedding vows, the "bride" refuses to say "obey" as her sister catcalls from the front pew about the groom's unreliability gives way to a series of simplistic feminist diatribes followed by a nasty family squabble. The author then tracks his mother and father, Lupe and Salvador, through the passionate and turbulent first years of their marriage, always shadowed by Salvador's bootlegging and deceit, always redeemed by Lupe's fiery strength, her bottom-line common sense and a hearty helping of sex. Lupe follows Salvador around Mexico on his criminal and other exploits before putting her foot down; the book leaves them at the start of a presumably lawful, relatively calm life in California. Though the author espouses feminist views, his female characters are one-dimensional, axiom-spouting cultural stereotypes: suffering, saintly and bitter. Where the earlier book offered an enjoyable, unreconstructed representation of early 20th-century rural Mexican culture, here that culture has been infected by a feel-good mysticism that even the California setting doesn't excuse. The story meanders through linguistic anachronisms (no man in 1929 would have said "full Latina hips"), mixed metaphors, aimless digressions, countless exclamation marks and warmed-over New Age imagery like "The Father Sun was now gone, and the Mother Moon was coming up, and the Child Earth was cooling." The author's central question about his parents' relationship "Was it love?" brings a neat ifsuperficial unity to the narrative. 8 pages b&w photos not seen by PW. (Sept. 1) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
This is a fascinating, if problematic, account of the early married life of the author's parents, a young Mexican American couple living in California and coping with the economic and social effects of the Great Depression. Continuing the family saga he began in Rain of Gold, Villasenor tells of his father, Salvador, an extremely moral man who, paradoxically, bootlegs liquor to earn a living. His young bride, Lupe, who is beautiful and intelligent but also conventional and na ve, is kept ignorant of Salvador's livelihood until she is pregnant with their first child a dilemma the reader will be anxious to see resolved. However, the book delves too much and too often into private prayers and their alleged responses from God, the Virgin Mary, and a host of intervening angels. The theory of 13 senses is intriguing, but one grandmother's know-it-all spirituality becomes tiresome after its fifth or sixth intrusion into the narrative. Villasenor is at his best when portraying the realm of social reality, including the effects of the Mexican Revolution. While libraries will not need yet another spiritual instruction manual, this book merits space on the shelves of most public libraries for the author's skill in depicting his parents' circumstances and social evolution. [Rayo is simultaneously publishing Los Trece Sentidos, the Spanish-language edition of this book, ISBN 0-06-621297-9, $26. Ed.] Nedra C. Evers. Sacramento P.L., CA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Coherence takes a backseat to exuberant, purplish prose in this sprawling saga of a family's life in Mexico and the US, sequel to Rain of Gold (1991). Choosing to explain those eponymous senses only in an afterword, Villaseñor writes, "I deliberately didn't list them anywhere in the text, because if I had, then people wouldn't have experienced the book." We're enslaved, he continues, by the first five senses, "the perfect trap to keep us going around in circles inside of our brain computer" instead of the apparently preferable "heart and soul computers," sites of senses six through nine. (Ten through thirteen seem to reside in outer space, along with the author's reasoning.) There's plenty of heart and soul but perhaps too little brain in Villaseñor's overstuffed, undisciplined narrative, which centers on the alternately wacky, dreamy, and difficult lives of his parents, grandparents, and cousins, a melting-pot clan of Indians and Europeans who combined to form "a United Force from two different WORLDS!" Many of the countless anecdotes are little more than shaggy-dog stories, although others carry more weight: the saga of his uncle Domingo, who finally found a long-sought gold mine after many misadventures, then proceeded to drink the proceeds; the end-of-days realization by Villaseñor's mother that she had never told her husband she loved him. The author's passion and talent for storytelling are evident throughout, as are his radiant good humor and devotion to the wisdom of black-clad crones who pop up from time to time in these pages to bliss out over the joys of eating avocado-slathered corn tortillas and watching "silky-thin clouds out over the sea where theFather Sun, the Right Eye of the Almighty, was setting." A little of the incessant be-here-now grooviness can go a long way, though readers inclined to New Age sensibilities will find the ever-enthusiastic Villaseñor a pleasant and engaging companion. Author tour
“Thirteen Senses celebrates the power of Woman...And, of course, the thirteen senses.”
“Thirteen Senses is not only a stirring memoir of a single marriage but also a timeless love story.”