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New Mexico, land of enchantment

The Nirvana Blues - John     Nichols

John Nichols' New Mexico trilogy, written in the 70's, is a tragicomic, magic realist, panorama of a county in northern New Mexico similar to Taos.  The first two books, The Milagro Beanfield War and The Magic Journey, present the old Hispanic farming communities (and to a lesser extent the Native American pueblos) in conflict with the Anglo community and economic development.  The first is for me a classic, and the second nearly as good.


       The third novel, The Nirvana Blues, tightens the focus to a single point of view character amid a single community, as development has driven all but anglos out of the town of Chamisaville.  In part, the novel is a satire of a community where relentless development is overlaid with hippie and new left nostalgia as well as rampant New Age spirituality.  The minor characters thus skewered are hilarious, and yet completely familiar to those of us who live in the area.  Northern New Mexico has not changed so much that you can not still find counterparts to everyone in the trilogy.


     ( spoilers ahead)


      The story of the main character transcends the satire.  Joe Miniver is a left-liberal everyman who puts $12,000 into a drug deal in an ill-fated attempt to gather funds to build his dream house.  The deal quickly falls apart, ruining his marriage, his character and his life.  As he becomes increasingly desperate to save something from the mess of plots and counterplots, threats and bribes, adulteries and betrayals,  the book becomes more hilarious as it becomes more appalling.  Nichols humor always has a bite of political outrage, but here the betrayals, especially within the family, are so raw and personal that Miniver all but forfeits the minimal sympathy the main character must command to keep the humor from boiling away.  And then the next passage pulls you back in with unexpected generosity, or self-lacerating humor, or eve a wild encounter that will forever fortify you for the next time a conversation turns to the angels among us.  The conclusion is beautiful, sad, disturbing, and of course, very funny.


Highly recommended.