RARA-AVIS: Outcast / Latina and Latino writing

From: Msedano@aol.com
Date: 17 Jan 2002

Outcast. Outcast. Outcast. Outcast. A Novel.

In another post, someone talked about language being transparent or language being something the reader lingers over and savors the writer's taste in words and expressions. Jos頌atour's Outcast seems consciously to promote the latter. Outcast works hard to create colorful expressions, from colorful names like Hairball to diner patter like "Keep it, beauty...Just looking at you is worth ten times that."81 Or, "And he wasn't even a block leader. He was a lonely asshole turning paranoid." 193. Latour works hard for the felicitous phrase. There are, for sure, overreaching stabs, e.g. "in the moonlit grass of a recently harvested field, she dispensed pleasure to the first man she'd felt safe with." Yet, only the paragraph before, "she led him by the hand into the shack and furiously rode him twice." 244 (There's that Jinetera theme again.). Language itself occupies a lot of Latour's attention. His character, the Outcast Elliot Steil, tells some of the extents to which language professionals in Cuba go to acquire the latest slang and update their vocabulary. I think I see the results in Latour. Later, Steil pretends to be monolingual to allow the character some cultural eavesdropping. Latour regularly reminds us of Steil's language culture gap, as when Steil hears that "Chapter 11" might be motive for crime, he has to interrupt to ask what that means. Readers will suffer, unknown to most, a language culture gap, too. In Outcast's Cuban communities, "worm" slips into everyday vocabulary describing unpopular people. "Gusano," worm in Spanish, is a word that divides the Cubano population into polar political groups and is an ugly insult. Perhaps some things are better said in only one language?

Like so many other Latina and Latino, Chicana and Chicano writers, Outcast revolves around cultural identity and culture shock. I found added interest in the novel's stories and threads of rafters, the irony of US socialized medicine for certain refugee Cubans but no other Latino or Latina immigrant, rationing versus abundance, local color, and FBI agents. But Latino hardboiled? Latino noir? For me, I don't know enough to say. That's why I'm new hereabouts.

I think perhaps a different poster observed how style makes one important characteristic of hard boiled and noir fiction. All things considered, Latour's novel probably joins the genre. Martin Cruz Smith's backcover blurb calls Latour "a master of Cuban noir" so obviously I need to hear from folks how you might cast Outcast's cast of characters and Latour's pen.

regards, mvs

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