DARK PLUMS: a novel by Maria Espinosa


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Arte Publico Press, Houston, Texas, 1995, 221 pages

Dark Plums is Maria Espinosa’s exploration of a young woman’s search for love and self in Manhattan. Set in the late 1950’s, Adrianne, a young girl from Texas, wanders the city and has sex indiscriminately with strangers. Her relationship with a Cuban-American artist, Alfredo, leads to further degradation as she agrees to work as a hooker in order to support his work as a painter. His treatment of her becomes increasingly brutal, and her suffering becomes so intense that she breaks down. But she ultimately emerges with the strength to leave him.

Novelist Maria Espinosa is concerned with human communication that transcends the norms usually permitted by society. She is particularly adept at capturing the distinctiveness of multicultural communities in the United States, including Hispanic, Jewish, and rural communities.

ROBERTA FERNANDEZ, Editor of In Other Words: Literature by Latinas of the United States, author of Intaglio.

Brilliant, deftly written, Espinosas Dark Plums is the story of innocent-but-knowing Adrianne. It is not a love story, if by that one means a romantic or fairy tale. But Dark Plums is a story of love wrought out of desire, passion, and a need for tenderness in the sultry depths of mind and heart. Brava!

LUCHA CORPI, author of Palabras de Mediodia, Eulogy for a Brown Angel, Cactus Blood, Black Widow’s Wardrobe, Crimson Moon, and other writings.

From Dark Plums:

JULY, 1959. A man in a pale green shirt was watching her. Adrianne could feel his gaze as she walked along Broadway in the steamy afternoon heat. In this humidity her bleached hair grew frizzy. She was tired from working at the office of Eureka Fabrics all day. Her high heels were beginning to hurt her swollen feet, while her dress, damp with perspiration, stuck too tightly to her large buttocks and breasts.

When the light changed, the man crossed the street, following her as she made her way uptown towards the Forty-Ninth Street subway stop. Three black teenage girls swung past him, laughing raucously, momentarily obscuring him from view. His attention made her spine tingle. This stretch of Broadway above Forty-Second Street never failed to fascinate her. The crowds seemed to throw out waves of electricity: poisoned reds and greens, goldsand heavy purples. After walking just a short block, she would feel breathless and drained of energy.

. . . Noises of traffic and people, blaring music from a record shop, and a slightly nauseating stench assailed her senses. Further up Forty-Third Street, a huge shovel swung through the air with a pendulous motion.

As she slowed to glance at her reflection in a window, the man in the pale green shirt overtook her. “Hello there,” he said. Transfixed, Adrianne stood absolutely still while people continued to press on around them. Her image faded in the window glass. With his small eyes and narrow, reddish face, he reminded her of an animal that had been trapped underground.

Then he reached out and held one of her hands. Empty and lightheaded as she was feeling, there was comfort in his touch. As he moved a step closer, she held her breath. When he stroked her fingers, she fought an urge to press herself against him. His warmth was protection against the waves of human electricity all around her. However, she tried to wrench away. But he only gripped her more firmly.

“Come, follow me.”

His voice was commanding, with a rough edge. He pressed against her, and in spite of herself, she wanted him to hold her and soothe the anguish inside her, even if it were only for an instant. Love me. Take me in your arms. Oh, this was crazy, she knew. Yet she felt as if the crowd all around her could suck her into itself and leave her hollow as a gourd, while this stranger’s touch defined her body and gave her a sensation of being solid.