The Milagro Beanfield War
Although the storyline, by any account, is both interesting and relevant, John Nichols’ The Milagro Beanfield War is as much about voice and style as about story and tale: once you fall into his amazing river, you don’t worry so much about where it’s going to take you.
But then, once the river gathers strength and direction, you find yourself seeing the forces at work more and more clearly, as well as the upcoming battle ahead—and you read on (awake, when you should be sleeping) to find out, to find out…
His much larger than life characters (or characters living in a much larger than normal life—for they do) are both pathetic and heroic, and funny; and you cannot help but rooting for them in whatever insanities they set out to achieve. And as an aside, Nichols must have been speaking in Spanish tongues to come up with such a vast field of character names, I continued to amaze at this as I proceeded through the story.
Nichols’ description of Amarante Cordova’s beating Death in seven-card stud poker is, on its own, worth the price of admission and sets the tone for the depth and the bordering on pathological stick-to-itiveness of some of the Milagro populace. Yes, once you’re in with this crowd, you don’t want to leave.
The pebble-pelting Mercedes Rael is another larger than life character that floats in and out of the narrative as real as any ghost. Nichols handles her expertly and you’re always glad to encounter her again in the most unexpected (narrative-wise) places—though always true to the story.
Nichols’ weaving vernacular borders on the miraculous, while through it spring his vast cast of characters, all standing up and casting a shadow (as Faulkner demanded of fictional characters). They grow every-day real as your care and interest increases by degrees and the book (or Kindle) gets harder and harder to put down.
I read this book when first published, but have to admit I didn’t know English quite as well then. Twenty years of reading (and looking up words and their meanings) have primed me better for this experience, and this time around it’s a firework of glittering life.
Perhaps best of all; even character you like can act like bastards, while you understand why they do: that, in my book, is good—and very real—story telling.