Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Review of Journey to the Heart, by Nora Caron (2008, Fisher King Press,

A Review of Journey to the Heart, by Nora Caron (2008, Fisher King Press,

In this time of complexity and endless challenge, I have come to truly appreciate a good, well-told tale of spiritual quest and growth.

Journey to the Heart, by debut novelist Nora Caron, is just such a book.

Her main character, Lucina (“illumination”; the Roman goddess of childbirth), has a lousy job, an overbearing mother, and a poor history with men. Needing to get away and gain some perspective, she goes to Mexico City.

Fans of the Mel Mathews books LeRoi, Menopause Man, and Samsara (also from Fisher King Press) may recognize what could easily pass for the female Malcolm Clay. Here she is, in a country not her own (she is Canadian) and she is crass and sarcastic, disparaging the ways and customs of the locals and asking herself such things about her host as “Did she want to murder her? Turn her into a human burrito or something?” (p. 16). This is in reference to Señora Labotta, a mystical woman whom Lucina thinks of initially as a “witch.”

The good Señora, undaunted by Lucina’s ignorance (“Canadians … You are all the same. You do not get it right way: too intellectual, too caught up in the head…”; p. 15) invites her to camp on her land, earning her keep by tending to the garden. Soon after, she meets Teleo (“logic”), the son of the Señora, who is training to be a medicine man. Lucina immediately falls for him.

No doubt the reader sees where this is going. And in many ways, it does. Caron adds some interesting devices to spice it up and keep it new, though. There is the constant voice of her therapist, Dr. Field, which plays both confirmation and counterpoint to what Señora Labotta and Teleo try to teach Lucina. This seesawing of perspectives is nowhere stronger than in Lucina’s heart, and, again like Malcolm Clay, she is given to taking two steps forward and three steps back.

There is also a considerable portion of the last half of the book that consists of Lucina sharing the details of her past losses in love. While somewhat unexpected, this device works well, mostly because the stories are interesting and easy to relate to (the Señora says “your love stories are humanity’s stories,” p. 193). This, I think, is the point of Lucina’s vacillations and at times frustrating density. She is like most of us—wanting change but so afraid to do what it takes to make it happen; to seize the opportunities put before us by larger forces, so we retreat to well-worn paths and old mistakes.

My favorite parts of the novel had to do with the trips Lucina and Teleo take to ancient Mesoamerican sites, and the cultural/historical information that Caron shares through them. The symbols that are sprinkled throughout the book become concentrated in these sections, giving the reader an opportunity to consider them deeply at times while always having them in the background at others.

The novel’s end is far from definitive, which again made me think of the Malcolm Clay trilogy and how things in the real world never really are. The constant push and pull of our “calling” or “fate” or “path” is a complicated process, which Journey to the Heart succeeds in capturing, offering the reader ample incentive to keep on trying to get there.

1 comment:

Sun Singer said...

Nice to find this review of a book I enjoyed quite a bit.