By: Laura Moreno
Evil as a habit of thought that surrounds uslink format not available “Creep: Accusations & Confessions” is the truly worthy new collection of essays about the evil that exists all around us. It is written by the very talented Mexican-American writer Myriam Gurba. As insightful as it is poetic, the book explores the knife’s edge between sanity and madness.
The book opens memorably: “It’s easy to get sucked into playing morbid games.” The first chapter delves into childhood memories of little girls cutting their Barbie dolls’ hair, something Myriam Gurba was not allowed to do. “My mother had put that rule in place after I tried giving myself Cleopatra bangs.”
The girls reenact dramatic soap opera-inspired scenes of lesbian love and hatred with their Barbie dolls. (They didn’t own any male dolls.) “They yelled, wept, shook, and made murderous threats. They lied and broke promises. They trembled, got naked, and banged stiff pubic areas. Clack, clack, clack…”
Gurba’s vivid description of the child’s play culminates in the emotionally tormented Barbies throwing themselves out the window ten stories down to the pavement. Death is a habit of thought…with a humorous side.
Meanwhile, the children play Delivery Room, pretending to give birth. Once her imaginary baby died, and twice she herself died in childbirth.
Her father recalls that Bela Lugosi (who played Dracula) came to town to be treated at the State Hospital for his morphine addiction.
He further recalls the sick death games he and his friends played on cars passing by, deceiving them into believing they had hit a child when it was only a doll. Drivers sometimes fell for it hook, line and sinker.
Some of the book’s best passages are memories of how a beloved cousin, her best friend, transformed into a gang member and criminal, and after years of being incarcerated, thanks to a California program for girls like her, was able to reform and get her life back together.
The book also goes into detail about her very interesting family history in Mexico that touches on the history of the nation. Warts and all, Gurba hones in on some of the illusions that have guided the lives of her male ancestors in particular who were not able to transcend their habits of thought. Gurba could have been a social scientist or historian.
Stupid Stunts and Real Abuses
Intriguingly, the book offers little-known stories of people like Night Stalker Richard Ramirez, the son of a terribly abusive police officer and firearms expert who did not want his boy to join the police force; drug addict William Burroughs, author of “Naked Lunch” who accidentally killed his 28-year-old wife while performing their William Tell stunt for guests in Mexico City; and Carlos Salinas de Gortari, future president of Mexico, who at age 4 accidentally shot and killed a maid while playing. It happened four months after Burroughs’ tragedy, also in Mexico City.
Each story is a perfect storm of the stupidity and/or abuses that infect corners of society. Tragedy is never fomented out of nothing.
For example, Richard Ramirez’s transformation into a serial killer may have remained incomplete if not for his unusually close friendship with his cousin, a Green Beret and decorated war hero who had just returned from combat in Vietnam. The tattooed vet relished recounting his experiences in graphic detail to the 12-year-old boy: his countless war crimes —researchers have claimed a Mai Lai Massacre occurred about once per month, only the press wasn’t there to document them all— against Vietnamese civilians, and his 29 taxpayer-funded killings (more victims than the Night Stalker) of Vietnamese people simply for being Vietnamese.
War is the most racist act imaginable, but we are not trained to see it that way.
His cousin taught young Richard Ramirez that women are the enemy (even though he was supported financially by his wife) and the cousins would disappear together for hours at a time. He soon murdered his wife, yelling “Why can’t you be like Richard?!” and pled insanity at the trial.
Perhaps the Night Stalker’s victims were indirect casualties of LBJ’s war, a war that significantly darkened and marred the American mindset.
But the ground was already fertile for the boy to be pushed over the edge into insanity. To escape a childhood of unspeakable torture at the hands of his father, Ramirez would run away to spend the night in the local cemetery, a favorite hiding place he had in common with a young Adolf Hitler.
Gurba astutely observes, “Richard slept on the grave of the outlaw John Wesley Hardin, a gunslinger who committed his first murder at age fifteen. Hardin proceeded to take 39 more lives and perhaps his spirit slithered into Richard, intoxicating him with frontier poison.”
She also notes that serial killers are “not rare when you consider how many people cops, soldiers, prisons, and insurance companies kill.” This isn’t the first nation to descend into a period of madness.
Making literary waves
Simply by speaking the truth, even before “Creep” was published, Myriam Gurba has been punching above her weight in the literary world, making waves and opening eyes to the ways that the publishing industry and media have underserved important segments of the population.
When she was asked to review the book “American Dirt” for Ms. Magazine, she called out the book for being filled with negative Mexican stereotypes. The tragic tale recounts the journey of migrants to the US, but it is written (some say cartoonishly written) by a self-described white woman with no first-hand knowledge of the subject matter. Gurba read the book while she was visiting Mexico and found it almost unreadable. It angered her.
Nonetheless, it was featured nationally as an Oprah Book Club selection, making it a preordained bestseller.
When Myriam Gurba turned in her negative review of the book, her editor said she was not famous enough to write a negative review, so Gurba published it elsewhere and kicked off a national debate.
Latinx writers are painfully aware that in the 25+ years that Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club has existed, improbably, no book by any Latinx author has ever been featured! And no publisher, it seems, has thus far gone to bat to correct the oversight until now, thanks to Gurba’s book review.
Myriam Gurba’s previous book is the highly acclaimed memoir “Mean.” She formed Dignidad Literaria with other writers to help correct the current state of affairs in publishing.
‘Creep: Accusations & Confessions’ by Myriam Gurba, Avid Reader Press/Simon & Schuster, $27. www.simonandschuster.com www.myriamgurba.com