BY SEAN CLARK
Author: Vanessa Libertad Garcia
The subtitle of this book, Despicable Embarrassing Repulsive, presumably refers to the types of characters that occupy its pages. That’s not altogether inaccurate, depending on whose perspective we’re looking from, but I didn’t find Garcia’s characters to belong to those descriptions. That is how they see themselves. Her ability to convey this is Voting Booth‘s greatest strength.
Through shifting narrative focus the book tells the story of a few California youths (a group of homosexual Latinos) during the 2008 election. Voting Booth is delivered through a blend of prose vignette and poem. Most scenes are 1-3 pages long (the whole book weighs in at a slim 70 pages). The story of the youths juxtaposes the somewhat disconnected world of addiction-fueling indulgence with the inflated patriotism and sense of civic responsibility that arrives with the build-up to an election and fizzles by the time the new president is inaugurated.
The inhabitants of Garcia’s book are depressed, suicidal, addicted, and full of disquiet. We see that they are at least trying to enter themselves into the conversation, to be tuned in to a country that is in many ways only theirs geographically. But ultimately they aren’t really in the conversation, and maybe aren’t even invited.
This realization can be quite heavy:
Now, I sit here, slouching barefoot, and the sun is setting. The ocean is rippling with life and all I want to do is die in it. Maybe I’ll get really wasted, trashed, tanked–as my students say–and go swimming far out until my arms grow tired. I’ll swallow the salty seawater, my lungs will clog, and my mind will drown…
This is a book about lost potential. Call it apathy, call it failure, call it a mire at the bottom of a slippery slope. The recognition and complacency in that is stirring. It has gravity. She writes:
Forgive your crumbling selves / and try / just try / if you can / not to take the world down with you
Garcia’s writing gradually builds until the book reaches a sort of resonance. The reader can feel for her characters. Not one to be overly concerned with the empowerment of an individual in a democratic state, I was stirred when the dishelveled hungover girl managed to cast her vote. She says: “Didn’t sleep-in this morning AND I voted. Fuck the trash. I’ll take it out tomorrow.” It’s a step. Maybe that’s enough, or maybe it’s despicable, embarrassing, and repulsive.
Similar Reads: Dark Innocence (Iniko)
[This review was requested and a review copy was provided.]