5 out of 5
There are sprawling, ongoing discussions about diversity representation in movies and comics, currently: be inclusive without being blatantly ‘appeasing’; tell a story mindful of your potential point-of-view bias. There are a mess of opinions on the matter, and certainly as many “valid” stories to show / tell in particular manner, but beyond those that are trying to directly make a point about race / gender / sexual relations / identification, I do think there’s a general rule of thumb: just tell your story naturally. Which is certainly troublesome when ‘natural’ for one person is surrounded by all straight, white people, but as the world around us gets more accepting to being the melting pot it should be, hopefully ‘natural’ becomes more less clearly segregated.
Jesus, even that general rule of thumb is sticky, isn’t it?
Anyway, the same thing should apply to books and stories – points of view are equally stunted there, though perhaps there’s a wider range to select from – and I experience the same opinion bias when reading something that feels like it’s trying to lecture me on “how life really is” for one person or another. I have a tough time with that because I’m never quite sure of who the expected audience is, as anyone who really needs a lesson probably won’t come around to reading your story. So on the flip side, when someone can naturally represent a particular time and place and setting that’s completely foreign to me and make it an organic aspect of their writing, I’m in love.
I don’t know what it’s like to be black or Spanish or orphaned or, frankly, to grow up poor, like the characters in Bryan Washington’s ‘Bayou.’ But they don’t know another life, either, and so while that informs how friends Mixcoatl and TeDarus act, it’s not Bayou’s forefront focus: the chupacabra they discover is. Of course, there’s so much more to it than that, slipped into these 18 pages, but it’s all related as part of their day: as part of TeDarus’ attempts to get back in with his girl, Denise; as part of his memories of good times and bad times he and Mix have had; as part of his experiences at work at the Sushi Shack or at home with Gran. Yeah, that’s all normal story-telling stuff, but once you’re wise to a writer’s agenda – or rather, if they make it impossible to not be wise to their agenda – you start to see all the somewhat lazy “tricks” writers use to direct us to think about that agenda. But our brains don’t have to work that way. We see faces in shapes; we make connections where there are none. If you get us thinking about something, anything within proximity gets correlated to that something. And so Bayou has me thinking about the life of these two friends, and the kind of relative hopes, dreams and miseries we experience, when, on the surface, Washington’s story is just about the chupacabra.
Heck, maybe it is. In which case it’s still a great story about a chupacabra.