I sent two sets of short stories, Maybe the Meek Shall Inherit the Earth and Poor Folk to the agent who is selling my 4-book The Bible According to Eve. My agent has commented more on Maybe the Meek Shall Inherit the Earth. And thinking about it I think of the first (and my favorite) novella in the book, “The Tale of Juan the Bear.”
Juan the Bear is an alcoholic but I like to think that in a society free of racism, his stories might rank with Earnest Hemmingway or F. Scott Fitzgerald… as does the story of his life, perhaps. Though more reminiscent of Twain’s King or Duke than Shakespeare’s Othello or Lear, his rough edges have the effect of high drama… his alcoholism and womanizing are the Achille’s heel reminiscent of the Bard. People say they look down on these flaws in men… yet F. Scott Fitzgerald’s downfall because of his drinking (though during the last 2 years of his life he kicked the bottle) and Hemmingway’s similar fall as an alcoholic (ending in suicide) besides his extreme womanizing (6 wives) are part of their glamor.
Without people aspiring to be like them in their extreme way of living, cat lovers celebrate Hemmingway’s 6-toed cat. Similarly, Juan loves his little rufus hummingbird Ernesto. Juan comes out each morning to greet his friend while filling the hummingbird feeder. This is an expression of greatness in little things. In this way, Juan’s private ruminations with Ernesto resemble Hemmingway’s love of his many-toed cats.
Though he writes sensitively about women, Hemmingway often treated women badly in his private life. Juan had two great loves–Helene and Isabel. Helene was a girl he found who wanted to become a nun. Yet she died young, with her brothers keeping close lookout for that rascal, Juan. Yet Helene gave him a goodbye gift–a statue of the Virgin Mary, which he does not even tell his second great love, Isabel, about. Isabel was a the daughter of a Spanish general in Mexico. Isabel agreed to marry him, despite her father’s wishes… and “the general” gave them a stipend as they travelled northward to the United States. However, Isabel turned out to be something different from the meek, kind-hearted Helene. She left Juan, and ultimately would have 5 husbands in all. Yet she delivers the eulogy at her first husband’s funeral, admitting that once a woman had loved Juan, no other man would do.
All of that said, I do have a confession about Juan and Isabel and their son Benito. I had a student when I worked at Breakthrough. He was my favorite student, and when I was almost through with him, I wanted to write his life’s story. Well, his father died tragically and his mother was on her fifth spouse. So to tell a story approximating his, I got a bunch of books of Spanish and Mesoamerican folktales… and that is how I discovered Juan. I admit my student was not a storyteller. A character like Juan the Bear Diego spoke about a place where my student had never lived. His mother was the only one of his parents who was Mexican (a mestizo) and his father was German and Irish. Yet I hoped to capture my student’s essence. Eventually, I would split the book in half (the other half being “The Education of Barbara,” also in Maybe the Meek Shall Inherit the Earth).
I have high hopes for Maybe the Meek Shall Inherit the Earth and Poor Folk… and–when they are finished–Tales of the Firebird, Part 1; Oz Revisited; God’s Laughter Reverberates Sugar Loaf Mountain; In Honor of Khashoggi; and Further Tales of Opossum Creek.