Thursday, April 4, 2013

La feminista

I'm not just a writer but a big reader (mostly on the elliptical machine at my gym and before I go to sleep which often results in the book falling on my face as I pass out.)
Sometimes, I write reviews of books that I've read and enjoyed. So here's a recent one for The Feminist and the Cowboy by Alisa Valdes, a former LA Times and Boston Globe features writer. I've read all her novels including Make Him Look Good (which was set in Miami.)

Alisa Valdes' first memoir "The Feminist and the Cowboy" was a wild fun ride of a read, though at times a little bumpy.
Unlike her previous novels, Valdes serves as the subject exploring how feminist ideals have influenced her life in positive and yet destructive ways. This journey of introspection comes after she falls for a rugged New Mexico cowboy (don't call him a conservative, her prefers "traditionalist".)
Like a whip, the story snaps back and forth, from the first time Valdes meets the cowboy and their budding long-distance romance to flashbacks of Valdes' childhood. On one side, she was raised by a "domineering" Cuban marxist father who "demanded that his daughter be a freedom fighter" but she was also influenced by her beautiful creative free-spirited mother.

"The dirty secret of feminism, I suddenly understood, was that it could never go as far as it aimed to, because we were, all of us, fundamentally shackled to our own biology whether we liked it or not,'' she wirtes on page 137. "Hundreds of thousands of years of evolution could not be erased in one bra-burining decade, just because Gloria Steinhem or Alice Walker said so."
As she examines her own ideals which are countered by the cowboy's "traditionalist" way of thinking (women, when accompanied by their man, should never walk on the side of the sidewalk closest to the street, women should wait for the man to open the door for her, etc) the cowboy (through Valdes' writing) tends to come off as a bully. (Again this is all one-sided).

His way, or no way seems to be his mantra and there were big red flags (the size of highway billboards) pointing this out. 

He shuts her down when she tries to explain her logic or at least her feelings particularly when trying to bond with a flea-bag of a cat or when she called another woman the cowboy had been involved with at the same time he was involved with her. (I cringed here.) Or when Valdes tells him that she is going to self-publish her sex memoir. He balks because of the way it may make people talk or look at him. She complies and decides to self-publish fiction.
Along the way, the reader follows Valdes as she begins "to submit" to the cowboy. He tames - deflates! - her fiery forceful spirit, which is the fuel for what she does best - tell stories.
"My passion and incredible focus made me a good writer; they also made me a crappy girlfriend." Still, this reader applauded Valdes (really, I put the book down and did clap my hands) as she sought to better herself by finding a support group and therapist to help her work on her anger issues and improve her spirituality.
Despite the ups and downs of the relationship, Valdes amuses with her writing and self-reflection. After a fight (one of many) with the cowboy, she begins to drive the three-hour-plus ride back to the city and she stops at a gas station to indulge in some sweet vanilla rolls. "These things only made me feel worse, as palliative junk food always does. I hate gas stations. I hated driving. I clearly hated my pancreas."

Overall, I enjoyed the book. It mostly entertained and yet also enraged me because I wanted her to move on from the cowboy after they had one of their arguments. Valdes' writing was in top form particularly in describing the physicality of the cowboy, the stretch of yellow grasslands from Albuquerque to the cowboy's home, the rural backdrops to their blooming romance and the see-saw emotions that come with dating a seemingly complicated and controlling man. I found myself sometimes agreeing with Valdes and yet seeing the cowboy's point of view too.

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