Messages in a Small Town
In this collection of short stories and essays, Nancy Davies, the author of political commentary collected in The People Decide, steps away from the turmoil of the Oaxaca uprising of 2006 to meticulously evoke intimate aspects of life in Mexico.
As both journalist and poet, she describes the lives of Mexicans riding the stream of cultural change since the year 2,000. Some stories, like Messages in A Small Town, deal with universals: the unchanging aspects of love, marriage and betrayal, presented by Davies with the soft humor of lovers using the technology of cell phones to surreptitiously communicate.
In the story The Dogs Were Barking, she explores the sadness and resentment of those left behind, in this case a solitary elderly widow, whose sons migrated toward the United States and never were heard from again. Finally she finds solace with the help of a mysterious boy who appears from the nearby hills and helps the old woman reconnect to her missing children as she sits in her beloved garden.
In The High Wall and The Woman Next Door, Davies approaches the difficulties of immigration from the point of view of an emigrant. A writer comes to Oaxaca to compose her first novel. But a feral cat routinely pees in her garden. The neighbors advise her to poison the cat, but this method is culturally unacceptable to the writer. She searches for other solutions. In The Woman Next Door, a middle-aged woman whose elderly husband does not try to integrate or acclimate to their new life, tries to connect with their enigmatic neighbor who is cordial at first, but later appears to be toying with her, an alien in an alien culture she can’t quite decipher.
Both stories offer intimate explorations of the outsider struggling to assimilate.
The Story Sleeping Beauty, on the other hand, explores cultural changes all Mexicans (and indeed people in other nations undergoing rapid change) confront. In a sweet sequence of events the story introduces us to the sleeping virgin in a coma, the man who travels to his father’s home village and while there builds a dream bier for the virgin, and to the university graduate who becomes his fiancée. In a masterful narrative Davies leads us, like her characters, from one scene to another until we arrive at a new world-view through accepting the old.
These stories and vignettes employ intimate events and intimate glimpses into the lives of others. They portray mundane aspects of life in ways we recognize as part of the human experience.
"The universal manifesting in the personal is Davies’ forte.” —The Oaxaca Reader