cover image The Chin Kiss King

The Chin Kiss King

Ana Veciana-Suarez. Farrar Straus Giroux, $24 (496pp) ISBN 978-0-374-12130-3

""Life gives you mierda and you make fertilizer"" is how 77-year-old Cuca ruefully sums up her family's tribulations in Veciana-Suarez's lyrical first novel. A Cuban immigrant who talks to dead relatives, Cuca lives with her daughter Adela and granddaughter Maribel in Miami. Adela has a penchant for playing the lottery, a weakness for men and a cacophonous laugh that sounds like clashing cymbals to some and the ring of church chimes to others. Maribel is another story: practical, methodical, (""an uptight know-it-all,"" as her grandmother calls her). But when Maribel's life takes a turn for the tragic and she gives birth to a severely handicapped baby, Victor, the three women unite in their efforts to fill his short life with love. In doing so, they come to understand each other better, to rely on their family traditions and, above all, to abide by Cuca's motto: ""To accept, to fight, to surrender."" Veciana-Suarez is a sensitive writer with an ear for the intonations of bilingual speech and an eye for bicultural nuance. The musicality of her words, the mixture of familiar Latin American superstitions and children's songs and the wisdom and naivete she gives these three remarkable women offset the book's central tragedy. The tale is a tearjerker, but Veciana-Suarez tells it with frankness and delicacy. (July)