If 2017 was finally the year that ushered in feminist science fiction fabulism, let 2018 be a stronger contender for more releases of the same kind!
Last year, I read two notable books in this category and reviewed them on the blog: The Power by Naomi Alderman (one of the best books Barack Obama said he read that year) and Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado. Folks may have casted this book as a dystopian read but come to think of it–a world where women held a tangible, lethal power over men? More would argue that that’s actually utopian.
I remember these books while I was reading Heartland by Ana Simo, a copy that Restless Books sent to me late last year. I didn’t know much about Simo, but after reading that the New Yorker was born and raised in Cuba and participated in early women’s and gay and lesbian rights groups, I felt an instant kinship.
Heartland is the dystopian tale of a queer Latina from Elmira County who loses her ability to write and is only comforted by the fact that she will gain some semblance of her old self by committing murder. A likely but unsuspecting target: Mercy McCabe, who has recently broken up with the love of our narrator’s life, Bebe.
If this plot doesn’t interest you, consider this: how all of these things were executed, down to the would-be murderer’s schemes/thought processes/details are hilarious. Meandering between establishing an identity as a queer woman of color, as a writer, as someone worth remembering, Simo’s prose simultaneously probes and tickles.
A constant reference was her identity — as a queer Latina — although she uses the word spic (as in Hispanic) a lot. Maybe as a form of reclamation? Whatever Simo’s intention is, she had me laughing riotously as I followed the narrator’s dilemma, plans and schemes.
After making it out to New York City to live out a writer’s dream and being commissioned to do a biography, she soon discovers that she has lost her ability to turn out certain words, like prepositions for example.
Ok, that’s not really laughable (it’s actually nightmarish for any writer) but the way she tells the story gives you a dramatic flair fit for television shows. A telenovela, to be exact, shows I grew up with in rural Philippines.
That was the beginning of an elaborate plan to disguise herself and to live as if her writer self has vanished. From donning costumes to changing accents, I almost could imagine our endearingly comical protagonist walking through the streets of New York City.
Until she came across Mercy McCabe, the other half of this story which opened up a door to the Latina’s childhood. She took it upon herself to help Mercy heal from the breakup, by bringing her back to her hometown and holing them up in a mansion where her mother previously worked as a house maid.
Their lives become intertwined, as they spent each day after that in close, almost intimate, proximity. Notable too, was how the narrator reminisced on former loves, as if by bringing back the notorious ex-girlfriend in town she was rekindling the twin flames of her love life.
Heartland will have you speeding through each page to see what exactly happens next, a tale of writing and queerness that will have you aching for more. But while I appreciated the glamour, the drama and the theatricality of it all, I kind of wanted more from the narrator, more from the story. I found it hard to connect writer’s block with murder, but then again, this is a dystopian fiction novel.
Is Heartland then the place of salvation for the writer (as in killing Mercy would finally cure her of writer’s block), or was it a return to what once was, and all of its complications? Regardless of what the answer is, dive in for an incredibly uproarious time.
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Pia Cortez is a writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She runs a book blog called Libromance where she reviews books and publishes literary features with a queer Filipino immigrant lens. She is a contributor at Hella Pinay, an online magazine for Filipino-American women and at New Life Quarterly, a literary magazine based in Oakland, California. She is currently working on her first novel.