A poet’s striking novel of the San Luis Valley
July 6, 2007
Entering Colorado poet Aaron Abeyta’s first novel, “Rise, Do Not Be Afraid,” is like visiting a world that no longer exists – if it ever did.Santa Rita, the mythical Western town that forms the subject of this short, dense novel, is a place reminiscent of Eden, both before and
after the Fall. One is reminded of Gabriel García Márquez’s fictional Colombian town, Macondo, as Abeyta creates a culture in a specific place and witnesses its dissolution – from greed, abandonment, the withering of love.Like García Márquez in “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” Abeyta begins with an annotated cast of characters, for it’s easy to confuse the people in this novel. Abeyta moves through time and generations as if through memory: “That was 1926,” when the fences were built, we are told in the same paragraph in which we have traveled even further back to the arrival of the treacherous Matthews family in 1878.”Santa Rita sat in a long and deep canyon cut by an ancient river of ice, now melted to a river that flowed east toward the Rio Grande. There was no TV reception in Santa Rita. Most news traveled like it always had, by word of mouth.”Author of the poetry collections “colcha” and “as orion falls,” Abeyta has written a novel that reads like narrative poetry, epic in subject, biblical in implication. Epigraphs from the Gospel of Luke begin most of the chapters, all unnumbered.”He Viewed the Town and Wept Over It” (Luke 19:41) commences with “Nineteen fifty-five was the last good year. Ponce sold in 1926, but the devil did not come into Santa Rita until New Year’s Eve, 1955.” Into this high desert paradise the devil walks. He marries Malinche Santistevan-Matthews, lifelong beloved of Aresando, a damaged veteran.
Love stories underlie the main narrative charting the rise and fall of Santa Rita, but the most compelling feature of Abeyta’s novel is the prose itself. Suffused with Spanish, it sings and mourns throughout.”There in the sombra of the bosque he saw Rafael’s piano, he saw his tia Adelaida’s abandoned house beneath a bent cottonwood, Nonnatusia standing in a field of clover and brome, lirios purpling around her. …”Abeyta informs us: “It’s not true what they say: we are not made of bone and blood. Humans, all of us, are made of choices.”This article originally appeared in High Country News (www.hcn.org), which covers the West’s communities and natural-resource issues from Paonia, Colo.