Eat the Mouth That Feeds You

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Release Date: 
March 22, 2021
City Lights Publishers
Reviewed by: 

Maybe you thought it was impossible. That it didn’t exist. You would never find a contemporary short story collection that was more than well written. That did not read as if intended for use as a textbook in a Creative Writing MFA curriculum. A collection very obviously not caring about winning awards, or about educating, or promoting awareness of damn near anything. A set of stories that read better than nice. Or even better, that read not nice. Not nice at all. A collection with that kind of bite? And written by a woman? Ha! Never, you said.

Well, behold the opening lines of the title story in Carribean Fragoza’s Eat the Mouth That Feeds You:

“My daughter, for lack of memory, eats me. Sometimes in little bites throughout the day. I don’t even notice it until I feel a dull pain in the ribs and see it is my daughter, chewing on the meat around the small bone. She sucks blood from the veins while she reads one of her books on the couch. When I hear her crunching on the bone to suck the marrow, I pretend not to notice, and I remember to rush back to the kitchen to check on the pot I left on the fire. I am here to feed her, what can I do.”

Thankfully, it doesn’t get any more civilized than that. Here is another story, this one titled “The Vicious Ladies:”

“It was like watching a clandestine baptism. The girls faithfully dropped their bodies into the invisible waters that would make them new. And the noz did. Each emerged from their trip smiling, like they’d all seen some variation of a god that was gentle and kind and sometimes very funny.

“Since we started bringing the noz, the parties are even more unbearable. From my seat on a plastic milk crate next to the empty beer cans and stench of dog urine, I can’t stop watching the kids suck on balloons, and roll their eyes back into their heads and open their mouths like they’re about to speak in tongues. They don’t know that this god they experience has a name. It’s called Samira. And this is all part of Samira’s plan that has only begun to unfold, exactly as she expects it to. Her genius evades and disgusts me. And I hate all of them. I hate the Vicious Ladies.”

Yes, very nasty. Very delicious. There are also tortillas and nopales and Spanish-sounding names because Fragoza grew up in the South El Monte, California, the daughter of Mexican Immigrants. But please, do not call Eat the Mouth That Feeds You immigrant literature.

If anything, there is more feminist subtext here than there is displacement angst, a fitting language and tone for the current state of women’s issues, all the black humor, the irony, and stranger-than-fiction scenarios right at home here among the fairy tales gone wrong and the fables exposed for the patriarchal propaganda they always were. Oh, and a bit of blood, gore, guts, and death thrown in, you know, for balance.

Yes, there are fairy tales and fables, but please don’t call it magical realism, either. (Writers with roots in Latin America can write all sorts of things, and do. A bit of fun fantasy on the page does not a magical realist collection make.)

What you can call it, is genius. A harmless penis balloon prank that outlines the territories of the natives, and separates them from the spaces of the just-arriveds. The ghetto, the hood, as it would be if women ran it. A little girl that will inexplicably remind you of the movie The Exorcist; the little darling quite intent on literally eating her own roots, a cameo by legendary TV game show presenter Don Francisco, appearing here complete with the loose hands, loose lips, and the even looser ethics his sometime critics accused him of.

Not that it’s all fun and games. These lines are from the story “New Fire Songs” and evoke the high tension act that is living under the thin shelter of borders.

“The blaze was enormous, shooting into the black sky. For a great while, there was a vast silence all around, a great listening, through the fire grew tall and danced like a god’s tongue, speaking a language that no one knew. But we understood. We saw the fire grow larger as we roused everyone from their sleep, hurried them to grab their small belongings and their babies. The elders already stood at the edge of the grove, resigned, witnessing an end they had known would come.”

“Mysterious Bodies,” about snakes and love, is really a tale speaking to the pressure on young women to become mothers, whether that is the life they envision for themselves or not.

“When she swallowed the pills and waited for its effects for several long hours, she felt disappointed. Fuckin’ Alex, he ripped me off, she thought. But after a while, she felt death ripping her womb to shreds. Sweating thick drops of agony, she dragged herself across her bedroom floor. It took several hours and finally, exhausted, she reached the cool bathroom tile and managed to lift herself slowly onto the toilet. Just as she sat, she felt something drop suddenly from the depths of her body, from a center so profound that it was a mystery even to her.”

Yeah. So, no, these are not nice little stories. These are angry tales, and the birds in them are astonishingly pissed off. Sure, they are superbly written, lyrical, imbued with interesting layers—historical, humorous, satirical, social. Sure. All of that. But what they are most is fun. Just fun. Interesting. Like reading some great movies. They do not preach. They don’t care if you learn something or not. No social problem will be solved because we read these stories, and maybe that, that right there, is exactly why we should.