Some Personal Favorites

Review by Lynda La Rocca

Books – December 1998 – Colorado Central Magazine

Some Personal Favorites

by Lynda La Rocca

“Those were the days, my friend,” you can almost hear Banana Rose sigh as she spoons brown rice and tofu into her mouth.

The title character of Natalie Goldberg’s first — and fabulous — novel joins a commune in Taos, New Mexico, in the mid-1970s to search for her muse as a painter and her place in the world.

What she finds is a best friend in a solitary writer named Anna, and a lover who calls himself Gauguin. After a sweet idyll amid sagebrush and purple sunsets, Gauguin returns to Minnesota. Heartbroken at leaving Taos but desperately in love, Banana Rose follows.

Once married, Banana and Gauguin slowly but inexorably revert to Brooklyn-born Nell Schwartz and struggling musician George Howard, who works for his father’s firm while dreaming of a bigger gig. What follows is a series of life-altering events that ultimately lead Nell to discover her true power.

Goldberg, the acclaimed author of Wild Mind, a writer’s guide to unleashing creativity, pens Banana Rose’s story with a first-person immediacy that pulls you deep within the soul of this strong, brave woman who really does know what she needs, after all.

Banana Rose (Bantam Books, 1995) is funny, yet sob-out-loud sad, full of finely-articulated truths, not to mention dead-on accurate depictions of places like Boulder and Taos, the latter in the days before it became just another overrated tourist town.

Without anticipating a cosmic connection, I recently picked up Rick Collignon’s Perdido (MacMurray & Beck, Denver, 1997), a novel that also happens to be set in northern New Mexico and features a commune.

Will Sawyer is an Anglo who has lived for 18 years in the dusty, slow-moving village of Guadalupe. Although he is basically an outsider, the natives of this forgotten hamlet (originally named Perdido, Spanish for “lost,” by a settler stranded there alone for two years) have accepted Will. They have, at least, until he becomes intrigued by the story of an Anglo girl, a resident of a nearby commune, whose naked body was found hanging from Las Manos Bridge 25 years earlier.

Will’s curiosity about the unknown girl’s death generates rumors, fear, and a violent confrontation during a baseball game. Despite the seriousness of Will’s plight, Collignon’s description of the local baseball teams, their players, and a domestic pig run amok (trust me, there’s a connection), along with his explanation of why grown men love this game, made me chuckle.

Grammatically speaking, Collignon’s use of Spanish leaves something to be desired. He’s not big on character development, and he fills his landscape with “people” who don’t always move the story forward. But he perfectly captures the pace of life in a small town, where anyone different can easily become a target of suspicion or a valued member of the community — sometimes all in the same day.

No matter how many times I read it, Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland continues to delight. Its strange brew of absurdity, wordplay, fright and fantasy turns language and logic inside out and raises wonderful questions about the purpose of societal rules, manners, and conventions.

I challenge you not to laugh out loud over Alice’s encounter with a hookah-smoking caterpillar, or her befuddlement over the mad tea party with the March Hare, the Hatter and the narcoleptic Dormouse.

And the trial of the Knave of Hearts who stole the tarts even parallels America’s current affairs (of state and otherwise).

When the Queen declares, “Sentence first–verdict afterwards,” I can’t help but wonder which political party she’d support today.

“Stuff and nonsense!” Alice tells her.