The Aztec Love God
Reviewed by Charlie Bertsch
Monday, May 1 2000, 5:33 PM
There was a time when nearly all the minority literature in the US was published on small presses like FC2. Even the works of well-know writers like Zora Neale Hurston and Chester Himes drifted in and out of print, their future bound to the fate of their publishers' money-starved businesses. Things are a lot different now. The situation of American minorities may not have improved much in the last twenty-five years -- in some respects it's actually worse -- but the situation of American minority literature has. Texts by African-American, Asian-American, Latino, and LGBT authors have become staples of mainstream publishing houses that can afford to splurge on the look of a book. So I was a little taken aback when I came across The Aztec Love God. The book's packaging partakes of the same low-fi aesthetic as the works of many of today's "experimental" -- read "white" -- authors.
I'm not going to be an asshole and say that I found the slightly-better-than-laser-written quality refreshing. But it did make me take notice of Diaz's book. Paging through it rapidly, I started to get a sense of why it might not have passed major-label muster. The Aztec Love Godis deliberately disjointed, combining the story of an aspiring Latino comedian with the monologues he delivers as part of his act. It's also told in retrospect. The book begins with a frame that deliberately references the prologue of Ralph Ellison's classic novel Invisible Man:
"I am a behind the scenes man. Invisible by choice, not unwillingly wiped off your central nervous system. No. Invisible to seep deeper into your receiving system, your super-central nervous system where the frequencies you experience but try to ignore make you nervous. There is where I plant the crops I pick."
It's a promising beginning, particularly if you love Invisible Man the way I do. And it's got a bit of an edge too, paying homage to Ellison's masterwork as a way of slyly reminding us that no work of fiction by an American Latino has come close to attaining its fame.
The problem is that the rest of the book doesn't fulfill this promise. It certainly has its moments. Some of the monologues had me laughing out loud. And the story proper does a good job of conveying the protagonist's nervousness. Yet overall The Aztec Love Godseems to be caught between a hard place and a rock. It's too experimental to really work as a story, but not experimental enough to make the reader forgive the story's lack of depth. And Diaz's prose is too pedestrian to overcome this failing. Here's a passage that provides a particularly depressing example:
"'Relax.' She rubs her foot against my hard on, presses it down, kneads it. Puts her other foot on my face. Pulls the bottom of her T-shirt out, rolls it up to her tits. They're shiny, round, with dark brown, wide tips. She rubs them together, leans toward me, grabs my face, brings both feet to my crotch. She opens her mouth over my mouth and rubs the inside of her big lips over my lips, soft, warm. She kisses me softly, flicks me, reaches down to my hard-on."
While it's true that it has become difficult, in this show-and-tell-everything age, to write an interesting sex scene, it's also clear that this one doesn't even come close. I've read more interesting prose in the Forum section of Penthouse.
Maybe it's unfair to harsh on the weak spots in The Aztec Love God. The book is funny, if in a rather sit-com-like fashion. And the anger the protagonist feels at having to exaggerate his Mexican-Americanness in performance comes through loud and clear. There's even a way in which The Aztec Love God's roughness puts it in a more favorable light. It does, after all, lack the glossy pretension that plagues so many of today's "serious" novels." I just can't help but feel that this is one case where the assistance of a professional editor would have been a real boon. Diaz has two collections -- one of short stories and one of essays -- coming out soon. It will be interesting to see whether they deliver what The Aztec Love Godonly promises.
The Aztec Love God is available from FC2 Publications