MARTIAN MATTERS | Rios de la Luz.
⇒The great novelist and teacher John Gardner likened the craft of writing to the construction of a dream. It may not resemble our known reality, but it must have and follow its own internal logic. A well-written story is a dream set on paper or displayed on a screen, an arrangement of symbols and phonemes from which an alternate but strangely plausible reality is projected.
So if we take for granted that writing and reading fiction is like a slightly less intuitive form of dream-making, then the idea of a fiction character dreaming becomes a story within a story, an internal structure that defies the rules of its outer structure. Like other readers and writers, I sometimes struggle with the concept of a dream within a story. Or, to put it more accurately, I struggle with stories that dedicate a great deal of space and plot to a character’s dreaming life. I suppose I find it destabilizing, like the rules of the story as a whole are inconsistently applied. I like being able to find my footing in a piece, whether it’s a piece of New Yorker realism or mind-bending surrealism.
I say all of that because the piece in question today, Rios de la Luz‘s beautiful “Martian Matters,” combines realistic elements with a series of dreamscapes in a way that is gorgeous and captivating and–despite my trepidation toward stories that rely heavily on the character’s dreams–maintains an overall structure that gives an insecure reader like myself something to latch onto.
A little bit about “Martian Matters”: The story is told in the second person, so the protagonist is the you-character, a young woman who every Saturday night talks on the phone to her abuela. There is a significant generational/cultural gap between the protagonist and her abuela, who always asks if she has a boyfriend yet (as if a boyfriend is the only option). In addition to talking about getting a man for her covertly queer granddaughter, they discuss TV shows and jobs and other, safer topics. And then the dreams begin: the protagonist finds a lover, a martian woman, and various things happen involving fish (koi, a very dream-like choice) and TVs and other things, and the images progress smoothly from one to the next. While the telephonic dialogue between the You-character and abuela is authentic and very well-paced, the dream sequences are the points where the story truly glistens. The dreams are richly textured and charged with feeling.
The story’s dream world becomes a sanctuary for the protagonist, a place to hide away from the pain of her identity and the discrimination she faces in the U.S. I think what’s cool about the use of dreams is it gives the piece a certain universality–this isn’t strictly about a young, queer Chicana so much as a story about an Other, or a person who perceives herself (via the projections of those around her) as Other. There’s a lot going on here from a Lit Crit standpoint (if you want to draw on Queer theory, feminist ideas, post-colonial and cultural stances, etc.) but I’m not going to get into all of that (I slept through that seminar in college) other than to point out how well-chosen the 2nd person voice is here. Sure, the 2nd person is used (and, in some cases, misused) a lot these days, but in this case it works, positioning the protagonist as subordinate or passive, less than. This is how she feels: acted upon, rather than acting. But dreams give the character her escape from this sense of being different/less-than; it is here that the You sort of becomes an I, recognized and empathized with and seen for who she is–if only by a martian woman and some flying koi fish.
That last paragraph is a mess. Oh well. Either way, go check out this great story right away.