I heard Lyn Di Iorio speak at a conference for a Bridging Cultures grant from Community College Humanities Association and the NEH at an airport hotel conference room in Washington, DC. She was inspiring and amazing and beautiful. She talked about her novel, Outside the Bones, and I put it on my Amazon wish list. That was two years ago. I just finally read the novel and the timing was perfect. Outside the Bones takes place in New York City and I was on my way there, which made the geography seem sharper and less storybook, more real-life. Fina is a healthy-sized Puerto Rican-descent woman whose obsession, kindled on page one, with her upstairs neighbor, jazz trumpeter Chico, drives the novel’s plot. Fina is a bruja who enjoys the fear and respect her powers bring, but who isn’t ready to go further in her spirit world training until a powerful spirit pulls her forward. Fina is confident and insecure by turns, like most women, but when a mysterious female spirit grabs her and takes her own spirit souring, Fina first loses her touch with the material world and finally allows two spirits to let go of the material and take their place with the spirits.
The question of the relationship between the material and the spiritual worlds haunts the novel and, it seems, the Afro-Caribbean Puerto Rican culture Di Iorio celebrates. Pots full of sticks and dirt that house spirits move across the floor, seeming to defy physics. Spirits cause trees to fall. People harness spirits to their bidding. Corrupt powerful men send people to the spirit world, but cannot keep them there and ultimately are brought to it themselves in layered acts of revenge.
Fina’s story is about the material and spiritual, but also immigration and family and women and the way we are often connected in ways we don’t anticipate.
Di Iorio’s novel contains a glossary, which was hugely helpful and also troubling, because it points to the exceptional nature of stories like hers being published for mainstream (read mostly white) American readers. The fun of reading about Fina’s spiritual beliefs suggests the ongoing calls for more voices of color in publishing (and at big presses as well as small risk-taking presses) need to be heeded.