cover image The Way of the Jaguar

The Way of the Jaguar

Francisco X. Stork. Bilingual Press/Editorial Biling-Ue, $15 (270pp) ISBN 978-0-927534-93-2

If ever a literary character arrived on death row for the crime of love, it is Ismael D az in this potent novel. D az was a successful real estate lawyer in Boston until he stamped out a neighbor's ""spring-cleaning fire."" One thing led to another and D az lost his home, his wife--everything that he thought made his life worthwhile. He ends up back in El Paso, his hometown, looking for Armanda, the long-abandoned love of his youth. After he left her, Armanda, without D az's knowledge, bore his child, later saw that child murdered by a sibling and gradually lost herself in drugs and prostitution across the border in Ciudad Ju rez. D az finds and rehabilitates her, but soon a crisis occurs, resulting in murder-or, rather, an execution. All of this is related in short episodes in a 46-day diary, written from death row. As D az reconstructs his life, he also learns the ""way of the jaguar"" from another inmate. It is half ancient Aztec, half home-grown philosophy (heavy on the Zen) that entails facing down La Pelona--Death herself--and accepting life. Paralleling this mental pathway are D az's memories of the Paso Lento, a passive but passionate lovemaking method that Armanda taught him, details of which will blow the socks off the reader. As Armanda says, ""I can show you the steps but the music of the Paso Lento comes from inside you."" Chapters of this unusual book range from a conversation D az holds with his penis during a masturbation contest to philosophical contemplations of Christ as a nonviolent warrior. A prize recipient in the 1999 Chicano/Latino Literary Contest, the novel is a splendidly intense debut, salted with irony and peppered with truly sexy sex--a blend of magical realism and gritty realism, as if Updike had re-written ""Innocent Erendira."" Though the text contains a good deal of untranslated Spanish, most words are clear from the context. (May)