by Eireene Nealand
“This is not a story. This is truth; a few inspired lines brought forth by metaphor, by parable, by prayer, by trick, by fever, by example…”
Michael Ventura, the publisher of Chuck Rosenthal’s The Legend of La Diosa, calls the book, “a fast drive around a tight curve powered by the momentum of love.” Indeed, The Legend of La Diosa unfurls via a bolts of poetic insight, discharged on a larger plane. Little phrases, like “sober as asphalt,” or “the tornado of his teens,” have a gut-level impact that, like the intensely lovely poetess La Diosa, who the book follows, could easily become ends in themselves, appreciable as mere objects of beauty. In the story, however, La Diosa is, in fact, always escaping obsessive lovers who see everything in her and upon reflection, one comes to see the book as beautiful not just for its insightful gems but also for the fluid emotional energy that washes back and forth opening each thing to every other as a part of the book’s philosophical stance. Take, for example, this funny exchange in La Diosa, where we’re told that the protagonist Lisa:
used to sit and play cards with one murderer named Jimmy Joe who looked a little like a squat Elvis Presley. He believed he was Jesus and that all the hits on the radio were stolen from him.
“Know that song, ‘Feelings’? said Jimmy Joe.
“Yes, I do,” said Lisa Hornstein.
“I wrote that.”
“It’s a lousy song,” Lisa said.
“Doesn’t change a thing about its origin,” Jimmy Joe said.
In this exchange, scorn for squat Elvis impersonators and disdainful feelings towards the song ‘Feelings,’ ‘doesn’t change a thing’ because none of these items are ends in themselves. Rather, as with all of the little stories in The Legend, they open out onto something larger: in this case, Jimmy Joe’s quest to ‘get somewhere’ with the lovely Lisa Hornstein, a quest, which ultimately becomes connected with things and diverse as madness, suicide, surfing, and veal. Rosenthal, after all, has four degrees, two in philosophy, and he believes in writing in gut-level ‘ficts.’ That is, personalized truths that use emotion and example to transcend simple judgments. Take for example, this scene, where a love-story-turned-rape is rolled into a fucked-up-but-beautiful moment of feminist-identity-claiming:
[H]e tried to fuck her…then he tried to strangle her.
[She, Diosa’s friend]…had carved all the names of her ex-boyfriends into her thighs with a razor blade.
Whooshing this way and that way through a series of high-stakes legends, all of which invoke heightened emotions, the reader easily could fall into disoriented postmodernist despair. Yet, there’s something about the beauty of the lines, their rhythms and songs through which relations wash into one another, that makes one not mind the disorientation. Dramatic emotions around death, for example, find as apt an expression in the quiet “murring” of cows as in the harsh acts of a mother who drags her children to suicide. Indeed, when La Diosa moves to a veal farm, after having an abortion, the aptly ambiguous sadness about the loss of a possible child comes only after La Diosa opens “(opens) the wire fence and let [mother cows] rove on her land” and the mother cows “folded up and slept on her living room floor, murring gently to her when she petted their soft rubbery noses” and when she hears them “as if they had all been impregnated by a ghost…praying for their unborn children” in advance of the either La Diosa or the reader seeing the horrible fates these children will face.
Awash in the confusion of wanting, but not being able, to make binary judgments one might ask of the book what Lisa Diosa asks of a painter she meets in a field, “Will it keep me from becoming a famous poet the way the world keeps a refrigerator from becoming an elephant The answer, clearly is no. Yet in its brave and beautiful task of facing the complexity The Legend of La Diosa manages to convince us that that is, at least in part, a good thing.