Buy it now direct from Cheyenne
Some books trap you in reality and others charm you with
their wit, but I love those that take me places. Setting is just as important
as plot and character and becomes even more crucial for some stories. Erik
Orrantia’s Normal Miguel is one of those tales.
Miguel Hernandez, a fresh-faced first year teacher just out
of school goes to complete a one-year internship in the rural town of Puebla.
He finds a stern yet understanding Directora, a randy baker and a rag-tag
assortment of poverty-stricken students, but he also finds candymaker Ruben,
who awakens Miguel’s love and compassion. They face a year’s worth of trials
and tribulations, learning about themselves and their own families in this
gracefully romantic book.
Much of the magic for me comes with the portraits of rural
Mexico Orrantia presents to us. Framed in dusty shades of brown, gold and
chocolate, his landscapes involve and engulf the reader, supplying an engaging
backdrop for the drama that takes place in them. And the story of Miguel finding, rejecting
and finally accepting love is just as dramatic as they come.
Life inside the walls of the school reminds me of the town
of Macondo in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. Orrantia
hasn’t developed that sweep or scope or mastery of magical realism, but there
are enough similarities to convince me he will in time. My one small quibble is
that Miguel and Ruben’s relationship is accepted by the school and the town too
easily and too widely to be entirely convincing but perhaps Orrantia means that
to be one more wrinkle in the veil of fantasy that shades this book.
Miguel’s students are also important in the story, and
nowhere do they make more of an impact than in my favorite scene in the book.
Miguel has given them so much of himself that they want to give him something
of equal importance, leading to a funny, touching scenario that involves an
abandoned warehouse and a shoeless bride wearing a stolen wedding dress. It’s
marvelous. Erik Orrantia’s Normal Miguel is a deep, rich, warm and
rewarding tale that will take the chill off the coldest winter’s night.
No matter where you are.
Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler