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Acuna, who casts himself in terms of the dominant culture, represents a split consciousness prevalent in the Chicano community. In short, he denies his own socioeconomic status by embracing white, fictionalized heroism. Acuna fails to see—at first—that Jake’s relationship to Consuela is less romance than male fantasy, less seduction than desperation. Gilb uses this story-within-a- story to indicate how a nation’s use of heroic narrative can hide an ugly subtext. Like Consuela, much of the West was not won in any legitimate terms; rather, it was stolen from Mexico. Gilb writes: “Like bleached blond hair on a dark Mexican woman, El Paso’s truth was not beauty-parlored well enough, couldn’t even be ignored completely by driving on the concrete overpasses or the many-
laned highway at its center, though maybe enough for those whose foot pressed hard on their Americanized dreams.”
As pop western films attest, there exists a particularly strong fixation on the days of the old frontier. However, the truly wild “Wild West” was never completely the territory of rugged American idealists manifesting their God-given destiny. Many were destitute families settling in Texas to begin anew. Initially forced to become Mexican citizens—even pledging to adopt
Catholicism—they were only later followed by the gunslinging criminal element that dominates popular imagination.
Our western folk heroes, ruthless individualists such as Jesse James and Billy the Kid—merely embody an extreme form of American “survival of the fittest.” These men are also a far cry from their Mexican counterparts: icons Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata. While Villa and Zapata may match any American outlaw in terms of pure bloodshed, they were people’s revolutionists, seeking to overthrow years of despotic rule in Mexico. Therein lies the critical difference between Mexican and American legacies of the West. Therein, too, lies Mickey Acuna’s inability to distinguish fact from fiction: Acknowledging the flaws in his American models would mean pulling the soil from underneath his own feet. The Last Known Residence of Mickey Acuna is not nearly as intriguing as the psychological context that gave rise to the work.
Despite such rich subject matter, Gilb doesn’t seem to have a clear idea of what this story should ultimately do. Stabs at black humor miss their marks, the narrative meanders at a painfully slow pace, and Acuna himself is only a concept trapped in a character’s body, an unlikable misanthrope specializing in misogyny. The result is a grotesque portrait of a man grappling with his desolate existence in a city fiercely competing with him in its bleak nature.
The Last Known Residence of Mickey Acuna is not a bad book by a bad writer—it’s an excruciatingly bad book by a quite talented writer. Skip it and read The Magic of Blood, a work that’s worthy of the accolades it received.
reads from his book at 6 p.m. Friday, Oct. 21, at Vertigo Books.