Tangled Up in Turquoise
Tale of family ties is fraught with New Mexican clichés
Finding CaseyJo-Ann Mapson
(Bloomsbury USA · hardcover · $26)
New Mexico has made the perfect setting for plenty of great film and TV—The Hills Have Eyes, Fat Man and Little Boy, “Cops,” “Breaking Bad.” It doesn't get much better than a steely meth kingpin kneeling down and realizing he’s staring right into a wheelchair bomb. That's entertainment.
Having said that, when writing about New Mexico, it's easy to overdo it. Case in point: Jo-Ann Mapson's latest effort, Finding Casey. It concerns Glory Vigil, née Solomon, a California woman married to a man named Joseph, a “proud Spanish Indian [who] liked repairing things.” The couple have an adopted daughter named Juniper whose sister went missing several years ago.
Finding Casey reads like a romance novel for people who find romance novels too low class. It comes in trade hardback form, rather than those smaller (and cheaper) mass market novels I use to prop up my tomato plants. They should sell it in the lobby of boutique hotels.
The book opens with Glory buying a crumbling, 100-year-old adobe home just a short stroll from the historic Santa Fe Plaza. The realtor's family has lived in the City Different for 12 generations. This is worth noting as Mapson later states that in Santa Fe “ethnicity had clout. A twelfth-generation Santa Fean trumped the wealthiest retiree.” Good to know.
Glory, who is pregnant with her first child, casually shops for that “perfect micaceous bean pot.” She also buys Joseph a “braided leather key chain with a silver concho shaped like the sun.” One time, UPS accidentally delivered Glory a package addressed to George R.R. Martin. Georgia O'Keefe—
OK, stop. We get it. You live in New Mexico. More specifically, you live in that Santa Fe where everyone has a casita out back, which is, of course, haunted.
I've lived here since 1985, and I've never heard of a micaceous bean pot, probably because Glory is willing to shell out $600 for one. My first job was working in my stepfather's adobe yard, schlepping adobes. All it takes is lifting that 8,000th 40-pound mud brick to kill any nostalgia.
And there is plenty of that going on here. Full-tilt boogie. By page 13, Mapson serves up so much Land of Enchantment fact-bombing and name-dropping that a reader's eyes turn turquoise and any stray cats in the neighborhood are transmogrified into howling coyotes.
There’s also a second narrative. It concerns Laurel, an abused woman who lives in a cult with her megalomaniacal spiritual leader, Seth. He’s a leftist psychopath who sells pilfered OxyContin and hates Native Americans. I have not seen such a crude white stereotype since the last time I watched a Spike Lee joint.
And it doesn't stop with Seth. Juniper's boyfriend, Topher, has the gall to tell Joseph that his ancestors came over on the Mayflower. Of course, this faux pas takes place at Thanksgiving dinner.
Joseph, in his own way, is also a stereotype. He seems to exist only to interject Spanish into conversations and use traditional Native American folklore to explain why he hates Topher. It's perfectly fine to write about a member of another ethnic or racial group. But he or she should not be treated with overly reverential gushing. It's condescending.
Mapson has written 11 novels. Glory is a character in at least one of the others. It seems relevant to note that her books are geared toward women readers, like all romance novels or fancy books pretending not to be romance novels. The men in these pages occupy narrow roles—either the good, strong man or the frothing-at-the-mouth, misogynist knuckle-dragger. At the risk of incurring the wrath of my female colleagues, Finding Casey is totally chick lit. If you talk to the television during Lifetime movies, this is the book for you. If not, I wouldn't recommend it.
As far as the nauseating level of New Mexico referencing is concerned, maybe I have just lived in this sunny, insane state too long. Someone from Iowa might not feel so bombarded. But I doubt it.