Monday, February 28, 2011

Crazy Loco Love by Victor Villaseñor

Book Cover Victor has only just turned sixteen when his father takes him for a walk around the family owned ranch and explains to him that it’s now time for him to be a man. This doesn’t mean being macho or scoring with all the girls, but only to begin to know himself and what he is about, never shirking his responsibilities and always being true to himself, no matter the cost. Though Victor hears his father’s advice, it’s not until his later teens and early twenties that he comes to really understand what his father had been talking about on that fateful day. As a young boy, Victor struggles in the all-boy military academy he attends. Though he is an American citizen, his father and mother hail from Mexico, and it’s only by chance, hard work and a little luck that they have prospered in California, becoming very wealthy from owning businesses and ranches. But Victor is treated very roughly at school, both by the other cadets and his instructors. They repeatedly call him stupid and lazy and attribute the worst of the Mexican stereotypes to him. Victor’s self esteem takes a nose dive, and it’s particularly distressing because he also can’t read beyond a fourth grade level. As Victor tries to piece together a life among the people who wish to do him harm and his parents who are clueless as to what’s going on at school, he has some confusing experiences with girls, comes to question his Catholic religion, and struggles under the burden of self doubt and low self esteem. When he finally decides to move to Mexico to experience a different life and go to the new university, he becomes aware of himself in new and exciting ways, and comes to believe that life is not what he once thought it was. Still struggling to make sense of himself, Victor begins to truly come alive in Mexico and learns once and for all just what makes him tick and how to be the man his father counseled him to be so many years ago. Written with an inexpressible and curious lack of self consciousness, Crazy Loco Love is the story of the author’s journey from troubled boyhood to replete and confident manhood.

When I first began to read this book, I had the distinct feeling that it was written with a young audience in mind. The language and sentence structure seemed very basic and there was something quite strange about the exuberance of the writing. Victor loves exclamation points and capitals and he’s not at all sparing in their use. As I moved further and further into the story, I began to see that the writing was really a reflection of the inner mind of Victor, and that by nature, he is a man prone to over-excitability and, most of the time, a lot of hyperbole. Every person he met was the most beautiful, most successful, best liked, etc. It was hard to gauge the real qualities of the people in his story because they were all so very similar. The best people he had ever encountered, in fact, even though their actions and behavior said otherwise. The problem, I think, had to do with the fact that Victor didn’t have a lot of experience with the written word, which may have made his writing seem a bit juvenile and inexperienced. I can say it was filled with a lot of emotion, and though it was a little distracting, it was also very passionate.

A lot of this story felt like it could have been penned by an over-emotional teenager. There was no real measurement or restraint in the emotions that the author expresses. He seemed often to be on the tip of hysteria, and because of that, the book lost a lot of its emotional impact. I also got rather tired of hearing about his wonder over his sexual exploits and his pondering over his penis. I assume this was a big deal because he’s Catholic and that kind of thing is generally frowned upon within that religion; To me, it just felt a little seedy and too confessional for me to really be able to enjoy it. Sometimes the thoughts we have running through out heads are not the best thoughts upon which to center a book, and particularly a memoir. I got the feeling that Victor was a trifle naive and that a lot of what was happening to him was normal, but from looking at it from his perspective, it was somehow strange and hysteria producing.

I think my biggest problem were the sections when Victor begins grappling with God. He comes to some very strange conclusions about Him and has all of these weird ideas about the nature and substance of God. Though he doesn’t go to church and only prays when something bad happens to him, he has this whole dogma of his own figured out that was rather strange and discomfiting. I began to suspect during the latter half of the book that he may have some sort of mental illness, because his thinking and behavior was so erratic and convoluted. It seemed he wanted God to fit into a little box of his own making and he was very self-centered about all of this. He goes about correcting passages of the Bible and having arguments with God in the middle of the desert, and I, for one, was worried about him. Now I’m not one to question anyone’s belief system or castigate anyone for the ways in which they find spiritual comfort. It’s not my place to do that and I feel I need to be as accepting as I can of others and their beliefs. But Victor’s grappling with God came off as unbalanced and scary at times, and his thought processes about these things were very disorganized and self-aggrandizing. It was interesting to read but frightening to contemplate.

Thought there was a lot to be concerned about, there were some moments of pure brilliance and Victor’s life story was rather interesting to read about. I think I just had a disconnect with the execution and emotional outbursts that plagued what could have been a very cogent and lucid tale. I think its interesting to note that Victor has had two other fictional works published and that at least one other reviewer compared him to Steinbeck. I didn’t see that at all, but then again, this memoir could possibly be very different from his fictional offerings. Though this book was not to my tastes, there may be other readers out there who would enjoy reading about Victor and his very unusual life. A rather strange read.


This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

13 comments:

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I love the alliteration: pondering his penis and grappling with God... Sounds like a rather bizarre book!

Jenny said...

Huh, interesting. I don't think it sounds like my type of book either. You had some really good insights though!

TheBookGirl said...

I'm curious whether you would try one of his fiction offerings after reading this?
I don't read alot of memoirs, but when I do, I try to avoid ones with a "confessional" overtone...I don't think this is a book for me; his contemplation of his sexual prowess alone is enough to make me just say no.

Coffee and a Book Chick said...

This does sound...interesting. I can say one thing I think I might love about this book - the cover! I'm big into vintage cars, especially trucks. They can be quite cute when updated. But, I'm not sure if I'm so pulled into the story line, though. Might flip through this one in the bookstore, however.

Zibilee said...

Book Girl,
I don't think that I would try any of his fictional work, no matter how lauded, because frankly, I don't really feel confident that it would differ greatly from what I had already read. It wasn't really a problem with content, but a problem with style, and I don't really want to get into another round of Victor being creative again. I really have no curiosity about his other work after having read this book. It might be a case of just knowing too much about the author, but I am not sure.

Sandy Nawrot said...

Eh, well, I guess we give the guy points for trying and being candid. I wonder where his editor was in all of this? There is enough teenage hysteria here in my own home, I am not all that interested in reading about it!

bermudaonion said...

I think that exuberance would get grating after a while. It's too bad because the title and cover are fabulous.

Jenny said...

I often struggle with book reviews where I can't quite tell whether the things that felt a bit jarring are a result of the character's voice (like you say, Victor being enthusiastic) and the author's. It's hard to know how to judge, but I always want to feel like the author is drawing clean lines between himself/herself and his/her characters. If that makes sense?

Jenners said...

Just how old is Victor when he wrote this? It sounds like a genuine memoir but perhaps not one of a gifted writer.

Trisha said...

I can't get the image of him arguing with God out of my head....

Nana Fredua-Agyeman said...

Great review. love this

Suko said...

Thoughtful review, Zibilee. I'm not sure this one is for me.

Darlyn (Your Move, Dickens) said...

As a Catholic, I find this memoir particularly interesting. In Catholicism, there's usually a very black-and-white view of right and wrong, eliminating almost all gray areas. So, I would like to see if I could relate to Victor's struggles. :)

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