Scott Driscoll Reviews Gabriela and the Widow by Jack Remick
Guest Post by Scott Driscoll: Scott Driscoll holds an MFA from the University of Washington and has been teaching creative writing for the University of Washington Extension for seventeen years. His short stories and narrative essays have been published extensively in literary journals and anthologies, including American Fiction ’88, Cimarron Review, Crosscurrents, Gulfstream, Image Magazine, Poets and Writers Magazine, The Seattle Review, The South Dakota Review, and others. His narrative essay about his daughter’s coming of age was cited in the Best American Essays, 1998, and while in the MFA program, he won the University of Washington’s Milliman Award for Fiction (1989).
Scott’s debut novel, Better You Go Home, is forthcoming from Coffeetown Press in September, 2013.
Jack Remick, in his new novel, considers societies that subordinate women. Gabriela and the Widow (Coffeetown Press, 260 pages, $14.95 trade paperback) opens with Gabriela, a 14-year-old from the rural south of Mexico, forced to bury her mother and embark north following the destruction of her village, violence that includes Gabriela’s brutal rape at the hands of a “Toad” soldier. Her luck hardly improves. At first.
Her purity of heart and innocence, qualities that cling to her like a serape, attract those who would sell her into sex slavery. But the same qualities also attract a Norteña. Soon Gabriela is over the border seeking maid work in California. She becomes a domestic devoted to helping a wealthy widow archive her memoirs. The widow poses a different danger.
Remick’s novel is rich with heated language that can be harsh like the world that threatens to devour Gabriela, or lush with burgeoning sexual awareness. Still in flight from her persecutors, Gabriela encounters “the toad smell…the smell that tortured her most…it was the smell of something crawling out of the dark…the smell of a fearsome creeping animal, long of tooth and sharp of claw, the smell of the dead, the odor of dried blood, the reek of pus in a deep and infected wound…”
Time passes. Safe in the widow’s villa and sorting the “list” that brings the widow’s past mysteriously back to life, Gabriela has a disturbing reaction to the story of the death of the widow’s husband. While mining in Cameroon, each day railroad cars entered the mountain’s tunnel “and its heat scorched rocks, steam shot out of the rock…even their drill bits melted. When they punched…deeper into her, she spat back boiling water and then she broke. The entire face collapsed…one hundred and one men. Devoured.” Listening to the widow’s story turn the mountain into a metaphor for the destructive power of female lust, Gabriela reacts: “Gabriela’s head was hot, sweat breaking out on her skin, and her palms were wet.” Far from surprised by this reaction, the widow remarks: “You are all heat and sex, Gaby…Look at you. Tus tetas, tus piernas, esa cara. You have the jungle inside you swelling like the vulva of your flower goddess. You are a greenhouse of desire.” The widow sees in Gabriela a protégé, though the widow’s ultimate purpose is not yet revealed.
The end is riveting. Gabriela is transformed, though not into a butterfly of desire. Power is the legacy the widow passes on. Power. Armed, Gabriela hunts down her former tormentors. Not to give too much away, let’s just say their fate befits their crimes. Gabriela’s revenge is swift, exacting, and unforgiving. This is not a neat morality tale. Remick’s novel invites us to taste the blood and to roll in the sweat. It also invites us to enjoy one subordinated woman’s payback.
Discloser: Scott has a forthcoming book with Coffeetown Press.