When the first caveman took chisel to stone, it was likely he did so to record the passionate stirrings he felt toward the lady he loved. Of all the emotions, love has inspired more books than the others combined, but rarely have its manifestations been recorded in so dazzling a fashion as they are by Ernesto Mestre-Reed in his second novel, The Second Death of Unica Aveyano. Love for family and country; love unrequited and unearned; love that inspires spirits to return and rambunctious teen angels to walk Miami beaches is what moves nica Aveyano a 67-year-old, cancer-stricken Cuban refugee to continue her struggle with life after trying to drown herself in the opening chapters.
Mestre-Reed uses the magical realism adopted by Latin greats Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isabel Allende and makes it his own. Every luminous word, every astonishing image feels as if it must naturally follow the word before, so deft is Mestre-Reed's touch and so willing are we to believe his enchanting tale.
Using the Elian Gonzales fiasco as a prod to nica's simmering bitterness over leaving her beloved Cuba, Mestre-Reed moves from past to present in Unica's life and introduces readers to a fascinating cast of characters. These include nica's son, Candido, a master lover of both sexes whose mournful ministrations attract disaffected couples in need of sexual healing; Candido's son, Patricio, a hustler and dabbler in illicit drugs until he finds fulfillment with nica's stern nurse, Lucas; Candido's wife, Miriam, angry and spiteful despite her American success; and Modesto, nica's husband, whose solidarity and devotion bring nica back to life once, then again.
In less sure hands, the fantastic events of nica's life would be dismissed. But in scene after magical scene Salvador Dali painting a portrait of a Russian housing unit covered in blooming wisteria in so lifelike a fashion that the real, infertile wisteria blooms in response; sexually ripe angels with seaweed for hair, trying to assist Unica when she walks into the ocean in an attempt to drown Mestre-Reed weaves a story of such richness and delight that one cannot imagine nica and her life rendered any other way, by any other writer.
Jorge A. Renaud writes from Tennessee Colony, Texas.