“Normal Miguel”–discovering self

Orrantia, Erik.  “Normal Miguel”, Cheyenne Publishing, 2010.

Discovering Self

Amos Lassen

I really love to read new authors and one writes a book that stays with me, I feel as if I have received a double blessing. Such is the case with Erik Orrantia’s, “Normal Miguel”. The search for identity is certainly nothing new in literature and especially in GLBT literature so an author has to find a new twist to keep the reader involved.

Miguel Hernandez goes into the rural area of Puebla so that he can finish his student teaching requirement. Like all new teachers he is idealistic and certain that he will succeed. (I remember those days so well). However, he soon learns that it is almost impossible to separate his professional life from his private life and since he is on a journey of self-discovery, everything he does gives him thought. Aside from his responsibilities at school, there is Ruben who owns the candy store on town and with whom a relationship progresses from acquaintance to friend to lover.

Miguel lives in fear that his students will discover that he is gay but he also struggles with the idea that he is not good enough as a teacher. Like all students, he is challenged by them but he soon wins them over. He  realizes that he can learn from them just as they can learn from him. However teachers cannot live just by the love of their students and when Miguel meets Ruben, the attraction is immediate. As the two men get to know each other, we watch love blossom and I must say that Orrantia has handled this beautifully. So often in gay literature, sex is the base of a relationship but here we see the two men getting to know each other, learning about each other and eventually and slowly falling in love. This happens in the midst of wonderful descriptions of the town of Comalticán that are almost poetic. Orrantia’s prose is lush, gorgeous and very real and a contrast to the poverty of the people as opposed to the wealth of the beauty of the location.

It is the people with whom we are concerned and it is the triumph of humanity that makes this novel succeed. This is a lovely story of a journey to self as Miguel learns just who he is. As Miguel finds himself with Ruben, we are introduced to a wonderful cast of colorful supporting characters and they add to the story just by being there. While not integral to the plot, they are important to the backdrop of the town. Miguel is the chief teller of the story and I picture him as much the same kind of idealist that I was when I began teaching—his nervousness and his fears are very familiar–he is a teacher as well as a student of life.

The story itself is simple and we have seen it many times but it is told with such beauty that it is impossible not to love this book. Miguel is a simple man living a simple life in a place where everything is quite simple so what makes this book special? I have already said that the prose is wonderful and the descriptions bring us to a new place. Miguel is a kind of a simple everyman looking for himself dealing with the typical problems of a community living in near poverty. He finds love and with it finds himself and the way Orrantia paints the scene, we are there with him. The town as the backdrop for the story is a microcosm of the larger world where things may not be so cut and dry but the problems are the same.

This is Orrantia’s first book but it is an important one. He has jumped into the pool of literature with a gorgeous swan dive and this book is proof that he will stay afloat.  I understand that another book is in the editing stages now and we will have it soon. I, personally, cannot wait and once you read this book I am sure you will agree.

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