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Wednesday, January 18th, 2006


The Stars Above Veracruz


Short, Weird, and Wonderful

A review by Anna Godbersen

Barry Gifford's collection of visions, The Stars Above Veracruz, begins and ends in the voice of a character known only as the Ropedancer, and indeed the whole enterprise seems to tiptoe a line on high. The Ropedancer has not walked the high wire since he was sixteen, when his parents, "the Dancing Ciegas," plunged to their deaths; his funambulism is now, thus, "a demonstration consisting solely of mental agility." He lives in the Hotel Los Regalos de los Dios in Veracruz, "something of a repository for lost travelers who often find themselves in a confessional mode." This is the conceit connecting the vignettes that follow, although it is not a heavy-handed one; it is, in fact, barely there.

In "After Hours at La Chinita," we see into a crumbling Spanish style motel in 1963 Los Angeles, where the old proprietress draws a gun in defense of a whore; later, the aging principals tell us the consequences. In the long literary mystery story "Almost Oriental," an academic travels Romania looking for traces of the subject of a biography he is writing, and tumbles into several versions of a still living history. In "Dancing with Fidel," a nave and unhappy newlywed on a honeymoon to Miami Beach finds herself in Havana, being mamboed poorly by Castro. The title itself refers to an intangible, the memory of a perfume an off-camera character used to wear.

Gifford, the prolific author of Wild at Heart, the novel David Lynch based his movie on, writes with confidence and beauty and an occasional touch of the bizarre; all of his characters are fully and weirdly imagined, even if we catch mere glimpses of them. The Stars Above Veracruz feels like a light work, but every stroke is clear and gripping nonetheless.

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