Reviewed by Kevin T. McEneaney
And then I Bumped into This Guy called Charlie by Luis R. González Argüeso.
If you have seen the musical Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda, you would have noted that the aesthetic sensibility wobbles between intense patriotism and satiric innuendo. That remains a distinctive feature of Puerto Rican humor which offers a regional voice that is original, lively, and compelling. A recent novel just published in Puerto Rico has similar cultural humor that is both charming, provocative, and irreverent. A sample line: “I swear,” I said. “God’s honest truth, if I may use the name of someone I don’t know very well.”
The novel, written as breathless autobiographical monologue, charts a second honeymoon excursion to Rome where a married couple (she is a religiously devout Roman Catholic while he a bemused semi-agnostic) rides the surreal current of unlikely happenstance surrounding the singular Beatification by the Polish Pope Pius XII of a Puerto Rican layman who was choir master, religious teacher, and promoter of Paschal night ritual. The couple, via Madrid, return to Puerto Rico with renewed appreciation of their native land where the spellbound narrator devotes his life to promoting the legend of Charlie and how he impacted the lives around him.
Two concluding epilogues wrap up the story: in the first epilogue the somewhat cynical narrator accepts the poetic mystery of Church as inspirational vehicle, yet both his two grown children abandon the tropical island for continental mainland, which realistically portrays the sociological plight of Puerto Rico; the second epilogue, consisting of five poems, illustrates the practical effectiveness of his own solution (since the poems are quite good).
If you take the chance to bump into Charlie on your Kindle or sofa, you will be surprised—and grateful—not because of Beato “Chali,” but because of the mischievous, beatific cavorting, and creole nativism amid the fickle waxing and waning momentary enthusiasms of the besotted narrator who at times indulges in varied historical lectures, including praise for the Ponce Art Museum, which I once visited and found magnificent.
And then I Bumped into This Guy called Charlie by Luis R. González Argüeso takes the reader on a mountainous ride with an appeal to middle-brow readers, as well as high-brow readers, who appreciate sophisticated undercurrents of tongue-in-cheek satire on tourism, religious devotion, parochial suffocation, the complex psychological trials and misunderstandings in marriage, childhood affronts, and the promotional afflatus of those who believe that they are always sane. Despite the ricochet of ambiguous satire, there is a deep creole reverence for those whose lives are sustained by aspirational beliefs that motivate people to do good deeds—humor and sincerity become quantum entanglement!
As González Argüeso fourteenth book (some are only available in Spanish), this author-translated novel (available in both Spanish and English) is not only a regional masterpiece, but an unlikely candidate for an award somewhere. The novel and others by the author are available from Amazon in Kindle format. The attractively produced paperback version, may not always be in stock.