As you all know by now, I’m a sucker for a good book. I recently read a review for La Ranfla & Other Stories by Martha Egan and thought, “Now that’s the sort of book I should read, and if I like it, it would be a great blog post.” I gotta tell you, people, you’re a great excuse to buy a new book (like I ever needed one). And this book is great fun.
I didn’t immediately love the first story in the collection – it’s the “I was a hippie living in Berkeley in the 60’s and ended up in northern New Mexico living with a guy with a VW bus baking my own bread” story that seems to be such THE quintessential New Mexican non-native story of how the writer ended up here. But I warmed up to it – it would appear to be Martha Egan’s own story – the flyleaf says she has been here for 35 years and grew up in Wisconsin. The more I read, the better I liked it, because at some point Egan got it – she got that New Mexico isn’t so much mystical and spiritual as it is welcoming and fun and funny. The people here are just people, but they’re accepting and amusing and interesting.
Egan doesn’t make any judgments, and she’s seems pretty clear that while she started out as an outsider, she quickly assimilated and started paying attention. Her first story could actually be my friend Cynthia’s own story – how a New Jersey girl comes to UNM in the early 70’s for an exchange semester and ends up living with a guy named Manual on the family orchard high in the hills in Pecos, throwing pots and baking her own bread. Her heroine in the story Mutt could be me in those early years when I lived in a guest house in the North Valley, trying to find my way through various marginal men in Albuquerque. I loved “Time Circles” – it was reminiscent of the two years I spent living with Phyllis Begay as my roommate in Farmington, and the few times she allowed me to go with her to the reservation to visit her family.
This is good stuff. “La Ranfla” is the name a couple of Espanola teenagers give Starshine’s yellow 1961 Buick LeSabre, a gift from her grandmother. She stops at a gas station, and when one of the boys starts to clean her windshield, he says, “Eeeee, I like your ranfla, lady.” When she asks what he means, he says, “Your ranfla – your ride.”
The cover of the book has a quote from Annie Hillerman. She calls this book “. . a fine, fine ride.” And she’s right. Lots of books written by non-natives are either condescending or on the side of just too reverential. Egan hits it just right. I’m recommending it. And I’m glad you talked me into buying it.