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August 17, 2015

Book Notes - Myriam Gurba "Painting Their Portraits in Winter"

Painting Their Portraits in Winter

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Myriam Gurba's latest short story collection Painting Their Portraits in Winter is fantastic in every way, filled with Mexican folktales keenly reimagined as modern fables.

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.


In her own words, here is Myriam Gurba's Book Notes music playlist for her short story collection Painting Their Portraits in Winter:


You should not read Painting Their Portraits in Winter unless you know what you're getting yourself into…

Babies reduced to powder
Aztec lady demons
Mexican goths (moths)
Tween phantoms
Liquefying grandmas
Vain poets
Cousins in coffins
Tamale-steaming witches
Orphans with dads
Disembodied hands
Teen stalkers
Wannabe vampires
Jewish nuns
Nerds of color
Book thieves
Juan Rulfo
Mistresses
Mosquitoes
Clairvoyant birds
La Llorona
Death
Death
Death
Death
Death
Death
Death
Death
and bacon

Painting Their Portraits in Winter is a short story collection written in the Chicana gothic genre. The Chicana gothic genre concerns itself not with what Mexican intellectual Octavio Paz dubbed "mexicanidad," the essence of mexicanness. Instead, it is concerned with mexicaniMOM. (Get it? You better.) Having invoked this Mexican matriarchy, Painting Their Portraits in Winter is the queercore descendant of Paz's Labrynth of Solitude, wherein Paz writes: "The Mexican is always remote, from the world and from other people. And also from [her]self." The "[her]self" to whom Paz refers is the quintessential Mexican girl who locks herself in her bedroom and paints her fingernails black. Behold a playlist for these girls:

"Bela Lugosi's Dead" by Bauhaus
Because this book is gother than my emotional landscape circa 1991.

"River" by Ibeyi (with a side of The Knack)
Do you know what La Llorona is? She's a Mexican ghost creature who haunts rivers and steals babies. In other words, she's a role model. In the story "Chaperones," La Llorona appears, reappears, is reborn, is rereborn, and is rerereborn, much like certain Christians who are really into the do-over. Born agains. Sister duo Ibeyi might not know this, but "River" is La Llorona's theme song. In their River video, Ibeyi sing merpersonishly. Underwater. The video is superspookilybeautifulstarkwitchyfemininecrystalineANDnotwhite. On a tangential note, but not really, my mostlynotwhite boyfriend improves upon "My Sharona" by shouting, "L-l-l-la llorona!"

"Llorar y Llorar" as performed by the king of the rancheras, Vicente Fernandez
If you're unfamiliar with codependency, listen to "Llorar y Llorar." Then you'll get it. In the story "Be Hoof, Behave, Behoove (And Be Hooves): A Four-Legged Triptych Featuring Pigs Both Chauvinist and Piloncillo," a middle-aged orphan wails "Llorar y Llorar" at his mom's wake, underscoring that the woman who made him defines and punctuates his existence. Her love equals life. Her corporeal death emotionally slays him. I approve of this orphan's momcentric worldview. Which returns us to the phenomenon of mexicanimom. This orphan's existential crisis, an existential crisis that forces him to weep and unleash his inner mariachi, is thee essence, the spirit, of mexicanimom.

"Cherish" by Madonna
The story "Lambada" features a homosexual character who asserts how gay he is when he explains how he would do all the mermen in the "Cherish" video.

"My Prerogative" by Bobby Brown
This song happens to play on the radio in the aforementioned homo's car.

"Buffalo Stance" by Neneh Cherry
See above.

"Caribbean Blue" by Enya
There's a character, an AAunt (she's in recovery), in the story "Bird Hair," who believes a lovelorn Enya committed suicide, and the AAunt LOVES Enya's music for that reason. It makes it seem extra romantic to her. (Enya is totally alive. LOL.)

"Paloma Negra" as performed by marimacha Chavela Vargas
Dykes lurk everywhere, including Mexico. Mexican dykes' favorite fruit is la guayaba. Aside from figs, these are the most vadgish fruits. Chavela Vargas was Mexico's dyke treasure, a crooner with a voice described as "roughly tender." To prove how intensely Vargas existed, Frida Kahlo claimed to only live for her (and stupid ass Diego), and Vargas croaked the day before my grandmother did. My abuelita's life, death, and haunting provide the bedrock for many of the stories in Painting Their Portraits in Winter. The life my abuelita lived as an elderly artist turned me into a lifelong one. Abuelita breathed until the age of 92, and the day that her spirit crawled out of her body, Vargas' spirit was waiting for her. I know this because all good abuelitas go to heaven and all good butches do, too.

"You're So Vain" by Carly Simon
Yes, I idealize my abuelita. Remember, I hold a momcentric worldview. And in keeping with that, I demonize my grandfather. (Of course I'm being hyperbolic. I'm not a man-hater. Exactly) My abuelito inspired much of the monstrosity in these stories. When I was a prepubescent feminist, he dazzled me with his narcissism, vanity, and selfishness. He showed me, through example, that being a man, and a poet, need not involve generosity. Being a man and a poet could be downright evil. His example also taught me that many Mexican men don't really want to fuck a ton of women. They want to fuck a ton of women so that they may fuck themselves to infinity and beyond. Woman is just the vessel through which they accomplish this. Is this misogyny? Sure. It's machismo. Which tastes like chorizo. Each oppression has its special flavor.

"California" by Phantom Planet and "California" by Joni Mitchell and every good song about California
California is a muse. California is a babe. California is a California girl. California is earthearthearth. California is dirty. California is my ruca and yours. When I was a second grader, I was so into California that during recess, I would put her in my mouth and turn her into mud. I always swallowed a little bit of her and turned her into me. I pooped California. California's mud isn't just America. Her mud is Mexico, too. Ancient Mexican mud that holds well worn and undiscovered mythologies. I love everything that California sustains, even the evil. Even Richard Ramirez. Who is honorably mentioned in the piece "The Time I Rewrote the First Two Pages of the The Bell Jar from a Melodramatic Chicana Perspective and Named It The Taco Bell Jar." If she, as in womyn, is the gendered center of my universe, the chewy center of my Tootsie Pop, then California is the chewy center of my true earth. Whack me over the head with a shovel and bury in any of the places I describe in the short story "Chapparal." Bury me close to coyote brush. Manzanita. Monkey flowers. Buckwheats. Ceanothus. Flannelbush. Opuntias. Quercus agrifolia. Let quail and jackrabbits and sexy coyotes watch over my grave. (somewhere, a coyote howls)

"Cochinitos Dormilones" by I don't know
The book closes with a short story structured by verses from this lullaby. Abuelita used to sing it to me when she was trying to get me to nap. I liked listening to it, and it would get me too excited to nap because I'd get really wrapped up in the personalities and storylines of each pig she moaned about. I leave you with these exciting pigs. Please dream of bacon, immortality and immortal bacon.


Myriam Gurba and Painting Their Portraits in Winter links:

the author's website

KQED profile of the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Wish You Were Me
Long Beach Press Telegram profile of the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists
Word Bookstores Books of the Week (weekly new book highlights)


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