THE REDDENING PATH by Amanda Hale (Thistledown), 330 pages, $18.95 paper. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
The Reddening Path is a fascinating study not just of Latin American history but also of the difficulties of writing about things that strike too close to home.
Pamélá, the adopted daughter of lesbian parents, journeys to Guatemala, desperate to find her birth mother. In a deft turn, author Amanda Hale tracks her travels while weaving in the story of the key element in Pamélá's family tree: it seems her ancestry goes back to the liaison between the conquerer Cortés and his supremely intelligent translator, Malintz'n.
Hale's follow-up to her excellent first novel, Sounding The Blood, sustains that book's fine storytelling. The narrative strand tracing Cortés's rise and fall and his personal conflict between passion and duty are expertly evoked in prose that's bursting with imagery.
And Hale really ratchets up the tension when Pamélá closes in on someone who may be the woman she's looking for. Problem is, she can't penetrate the heavy security surrounding her, courtesy of the influential man who has made her his mistress.
But whenever the scene switches to Pamélá's mothers back home, the story falls flat. Hale unleashes all her writerly gifts on the historical tale but fails to apply them to a contemporary scenario. The dialogue between the two women feels clichéd and stilted, and the historical sections' epic scope makes the modern lesbians seem almost banal.
But for the most part, The Reddening Path is a compulsive page-turner. Keep your eye on Hale. She's got real talent.
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