What It Takes to Get to Vegas (CL)

Yxta Maya Murray, Author Grove/Atlantic $24 (320p) ISBN 978-0-8021-1642-0
Rita Zapata, the Mexican-American heroine of Murray's (Locas) beautifully written but patchy second novel about coming of age in East L.A. in the '80s and '90s learns early on that it's no blessing to look just like her mother, Lola, a woman born with a ""face pretty enough to make other ladies mad."" Abandoned by her husband, Lola shacks up with every hombre she can find in order to forget him. Rita, too, finds attention from men thrilling, and she sleeps with every would-be boxer in the neighborhood, earning herself the title ""Queen of the Streetfighters."" Things change when Billy Navarro, a boxer with real promise, shows up from Mexico, and Ruben Lopez, a former pugilist who once made it to the ""Vegas Bigs,"" agrees to train him. Billy is the first man to recognize that Rita's meant for something ""bigger and better than this place,"" and she seizes her chance to get there. Hanging onto Billy as he climbs to the top, Rita dreams of the good life that awaits her. ""Who are the women with the most gold? Boxers' wives, of course."" The unfolding of Billy's secret past parallels Rita's own quest for self-knowledge. Ultimately, Billy earns himself a shot at the title in Vegas, and his success brings Rita a brief moment of respect and acceptance from other women. Her dream isn't fated to last, however, and as she watches it collapse (after she catches Billy with another woman), the city's political tension reaches a boil and a riot destroys East L.A. The novel is populated by colorful, richly drawn characters who tell stories so fascinating that at times they detract from the narrative's focus, but nothing matches Rita's own fabrications. Everything she gains, she attains by deceit, and Murray never spells out a moral position, leaving it for the reader to decide whether Rita has taken responsibility for her actions and come to any true understanding of herself. (July)
Reviewed on: 06/28/1999
Release date: 07/01/1999
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 320 pages - 978-0-8021-3737-1
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