"[Mayra Calvani] is the queen of wit." --Book Reviews by Debra
**** A Fast-Paced, Humorous and Titillating Read. Recommended.
Review by Douglas Quinn, Author of Blue Heron Marsh, etal (www.douglasquinn.com)
First, let me say that third person present (it takes me a chapter or two to get into the rhythm of the writing) and chic lit aren’t my usual reading fare but I liked the premise, so I dove in and was pleasantly surprised.
The characters are quirky and Calvani’s descriptions are wickedly delicious, sometimes irreverent and at all times scrumptiously entertaining. All this talk is making me want to run off to Taco Bell, Ismael’s favorite hangout–or is it McDonald’s or Burger King? Actually it’s all of them. Among other not-so-flattering traits, he’s also a fast food junkie.
Ismael is the disturbed ex-husband of Calvani’s moody and emotional heroine, Daniella. He is married to Lady Dracula, a woman who collects torture devices and gives herself blood facials. And who knows what she hides in a secret room behind the closet.
And, there’s more. Calvani also gives us a mutinous Angora cat with its own passport, an anti-feminist, ass-slasher dressed as Zorro, an animal hotel where you can share a room with exotic and sometimes dangerous animals, magical mushrooms that make LSD seem like a sissy drug, Daniella’s mother, who favors retail therapy and coffee enemas, and Daniella’s live-in boyfriend, Tony, a surrealist artist who weaves his way through life in his own bizzaro world of drugs and an obsessive quest for fame.
Amid the chaos of her friends and family, will Daniella find peace and her place in the world? And who is this Zorro imitator, and what is this obsession with making the "Z" slash on the buttocks of girls wearing miniskirts? You may be surprised at the answers.
Prepare yourself for a satirical romp through Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, for Sunstruck by Mayra Calvani is a fast-paced, humorous and titillating read. Recommended for both chicks and...uh...well, you know, us sensitive type guys.
"Dark and quirky humor coupled with quixotic characters adds to the surprising mix found in Sunstruck... I've never read a book remotely like it. Everything from the humorously weird to the actue macabre can be found between these covers, and then some." -Laurel Johnson, Midwest Book Review
"Highly entertaining!" -Romance Junkies
"It is said, truth shall set you free. And so it does in this funny satire that reaches into the realms of paranormal and horror as well as mystery and women's issues.
"The talented author, Mayra Calvani, gives the reader a treat as she raises the curtain on the world of Daniella, a young woman in search of a purpose for being as she mixes with a delightful cast of characters who, while they may not provide her wish answers, do provide the reader with a great deal of insight into human nature as might be seen looking at the world through rose colored glasses with broken lenses.
"Using what this reader would call sideways thinking, the author provides insightful glimpses into human nature. Beware of smug assumptions that what you find on the surface is what is being said. A tale of change told with laughter touched with lost innocence, Sunstruck will seep into your mind and stay with you long after you've finished the book." -Anne K. Edwards, author of The Last to Fall
Daniella, a naive and deeply sensitive architecture student who feels herself surrounded by carnivorous creatures from the Mesozoic Era.
Zorro, a deranged criminal running rampant on the streets of San Juan, terrorizing women who wear miniskirts.
Tony, Daniella's boyfriend, smug and selfish and demonically handsome, who seems oblivious to everything about him except to his own obsession with fame and LSD.
Ismael, Daniella's ex-husband, as cruel and innocent as a child, an art critic whose fantasies of revenge will force him to do something that will shock the entire island.
Irene Carlier, Ismael's new wife, better known as Lady Dracula, a ghastly rich woman who collects torturing devices and in whose penthouse apartment something utterly dreadful will be discovered.
Set in steamy San Juan, Puerto Rico, these and other crazed, eccentric characters swirl together in an intriguing, warped, darkly humorous world where not even Turkish cats are safe from marijuana smoke.
When Daniella steps out of the shower she finds Tony throwing a big spoon of Quick into a glass of milk. He begins to stir the milk desperately, as if he can’t wait to drink it.
“How’s the painting going?” Daniella says. She’s wrapped in a bright green towel and her long damp hair smells of apples-and-cinnamon shampoo.
Tony glances at Daniella. “You smell like apple pie,” he says. He tilts his head back and noisily gulps the chocolate milk like a barbarian.
It’s Wednesday night and even though both windows are open, the air feels hot and muggy inside the apartment.
Commando is sitting on the windowsill, staring down at the passersby on the street with a disdainful expression on his face. He seems to be thinking, “I used to be sacred, you simple ordinary mortals. Three thousand years ago people used to pay me tribute at the Temple of Bubastes. Those were the days of glory! I used to be revered and adored and adorned with precious stones and mummified and buried with kings.”
Commando throws Daniella a quick, resentful look. Ever since Daniella gave him that rubber mouse, two weeks ago, Commando has been acting funny. Daniella believes she hurt his feelings when she gave him that rubber mouse. Commando had looked at it with an incredulous, insulted look on his face. Daniella had clearly read the indignation in his eyes: “What do you think I am? Stupid? You think I can’t tell the difference between a real and a synthetic mouse?” But Daniella hadn’t wanted to hurt his feelings. She had just wanted him to have a rubber mouse.
“I don’t know,” Tony says, putting the empty glass in the sink and going back to his surrealist painting, propped up on a worn wooden easel in the middle of his incredibly messy work area. From where Daniella stands his work area is so messy it’s almost frightening—a sharp contrast to the rest of the studio, which she keeps spotless and reeking of Lysol. Daniella suspects this dual, surreal state of her apartment symbolizes her life.
Tony squints into the canvas. He grabs the palette and brush from the table and once again submerges himself in his work.
“What do you think?” he whispers, not caring in the least for an answer. He’s wearing nothing but white jockey shorts and white socks.
Fifi Santos is going to exhibit Tony’s paintings this weekend. That’s why Tony has been working frantically during the nights for the past week. He’s also been edgy and annoying. Okay, so an art exhibit can bring a lot of stress and pressure into your life, but that doesn’t mean you have to act like a Neanderthal.
Daniella herself has been working on an important project for her design class. She’s designing a huge modern shopping center, nine stories high, with inner gardens and water fountains and a big roller-skating rink There’s even a skyscraping tower built in the center of it, with a gambling casino, a bar, and restaurant at the top. The walls of the tower are made of glass so that people can see the view as they go up inside the elevator, but outside, the entire structure is painted in a Day-Glo pink-and-black checkerboard pattern.
“An ambitious task, no doubt,” her professor had said.
Daniella had scowled at him. It’s a disadvantage to be in a class were there are only four females and more than thirty males If you’re of normal intelligence, they condescend and patronize you like you’re some sort of pet who dared to dream too high. But if you prove you have above-average brains, it’s even worse. You become a sociological curiosity. She’s still trying to figure out in what category she’s in.
Daniella’s stomach is making strange persistent noises. She opens the refrigerator and studies the possibilities. A half-eaten bag of nacho chips, a jar of mustard, a small bowl with some kind of unrecognizable, mouldy food in it, two cans of Budweiser, a box of Cocoa Crispies, a plate of hummus Tony made yesterday, some orange juice. She would like to eat the hummus but there’s no pita bread and she can’t eat hummus without pita bread.
“There’s nothing here,” she says, not surprised.
She reaches for the box of Cocoa Crispies, but when she pops a handful into her mouth she notices they’re not crispy anymore. She’s supposed to meet Mari Carmen and some friends from the university at El Patio de Sam at eight-thirty. She’ll have to stop at the supermarket on her way back. There’s one in El Condado that’s open till midnight.
Trying to forget about her hunger, she takes her underwear out of the freezer and starts getting dressed (got the idea from a Marilyn Monroe film—an ingenious way to fight the heat!) She’ll eat something out.
She glances at Tony and frowns. She can’t help feeling a twinge of envy. She wishes she could concentrate on her studies as much as he concentrates on his paintings. When he paints, the world stops rotating. Right now he isn’t even aware she’s in the room. Yes, she has to give him credit for that. He’s hardworking. All day long struggling with Los Chinitos, all night long struggling with surrealist nightmares. He even swims at the beach and does some mild weight lifting a few times a week. If it weren’t for the drugs, he’d be a saint.
“I’ll stop at the supermarket on my way back. Do you want anything special?” she says when she’s ready to leave, her hand clasped around the doorknob.
After what seems like an eternity, Tony grunts, “Huh?”
“I asked you if you want anything special. I’m going to buy some stuff on the way back.”
He looks up at her. Suddenly he seems surprised, as if she’s an apparition from the lower world. “Where are you going?”
“I can’t believe this. I told you three times. You were not listening to me.”
Tony tries to run a hand through his hair, but his hair is so tangled the attempt is unsuccessful. “I was listening to you.”
Daniella folds her arms across her chest. “All right. Where am I going?”
Tony grins. He doesn’t have an idea where she’s going. He puts the palette and brush back on the table—he’s back on planet earth. He says, “Okay, okay. You win. I wasn’t listening to you. I know I’m an ass. Now can you tell me where you’re going dressed like that?”
“What do you mean?” She’s wearing a jade-green mini dress and high-heeled black pumps, her brandy-carrot hair falling like a long satin cape down her back.
“I mean where are you going dressed like that? Don’t you know that wearing clothes like that at night can be damn dangerous? We’re not in Disneyland. Don’t you read the papers? Are you trying to get yourself raped and killed or what?”
He looks like he’s getting angry, which in a way pleases Daniella because it shows that he cares for her, but in another way mortifies her because it shows that he’s deeply influenced by the chauvinist pigs of Latin America.
“There’s nothing wrong with what I’m wearing,” Daniella protests. “How come all of the sudden you’re so interested in what I’m wearing or where I’m going? Five minutes ago you were hardly aware of my existence.”
Tony sighs. “Are you going to tell me where you’re going or not?”
Commando seems to realize there’s more action going on inside the room than out on the street. He jumps down from the window sill and leaps up on the bed, settling himself on one of the pillows. Apparently elated with this new turn of events, his odd-colored eyes shift from Tony to Daniella, from Tony to Daniella. He yawns.
“I’m going to El Patio de Sam,” Daniella snaps. “Mari Carmen is waiting for me.”
“Mari Carmen can go to hell. What’s wrong with you? Don’t you read the papers? There’s some nut loose slashing women’s asses.” He rummages around the room for the newspaper, but his efforts prove futile. “Damn it! You can’t find anything in this damn place.”
Daniella wants to tell him that if he can’t find anything it’s because of his continuous messiness, but instead she keeps her mouth shut.
“This damn place is filled with cat hairs. No wonder I feel so worn down all the time. I’m inhaling and eating cat hairs. And that cat is Turkish. Do you know what caused the bubonic plague in Europe?” He puts his hands on his hips and stares at Daniella, demanding an answer.
Daniella stares back at him, perplexed. What does the bubonic plague have to do with what they’re talking?
He answers his own question triumphantly. “Turkish rats! That’s what caused the bubonic plague. Turkish rats!” He finally collapses on the bed and starts rubbing his forehead.
Daniella shakes her head. “You look ridiculous, talking about Turkish rats in your underwear. And when was the last time you shaved, anyway? You look like a terrorist. I’m going. I’ll see you later.”
“Wait!” Tony says, suddenly seeing the newspaper tucked under the pillow where Commando is sitting. “It’s here, I found it.” He tries to reach for it, but Commando gives him an icy, threatening hiss, forcing Tony to pull back his hand.
“I can’t believe this is happening. And he’s sitting on my pillow. I’m going to have that paper, you son of a bitch,” Tony says. He snatches the newspaper from under the pillow just in time to see one furious paw with five sharp claws coming at him. “Shit! I’m going to kill you, you son of a bitch!”
Commando swiftly jumps down from the bed and Tony starts swatting him about the room.
“Stop it! Are you crazy?” Daniella says, blocking Tony’s way in order to protect Commando.
“Look at my hand! It’s the hundredth time that cat scratches me! I’m going to kill him!”
“If you do something to that cat, I’m the one who’s going to kill you. Look at yourself. You’re acting hysterical.” She examines his hand. “It’s nothing, Tony. Just a little scratch. Do you want some orange juice? I’ll bring you some juice. And I hate it when you talk like that. You know I can’t stand foul language.”
“I don’t want any orange juice. Bring me a beer.”
“Juice would be a lot better.”
“I said I want a beer, Madre Teresa.”
Tony snickers. He can feel the small wound on his hand stinging, throbbing. He can see it clearly, the ferocious battle going on inside his body. Thousands of microbes and other single-cell organisms rushing into his bloodstream and shouting “divide and conquer!” and some of his cells, the brave ones, attacking the nasty intruders, the others running away like cowards. Human beings are so defenceless. No fangs. No claws. No fur. Only a squashy, flabby, slimy, disgusting-to-look-at mass of grey cells floating inside their heads. Good for what? Thinking about sex and nuclear weapons.
Daniella hands him the beer and in less than fifteen seconds Tony drains the whole can.
“This is the reward I get for trying to protect you—being attack by a deranged cat that probably has rabies.”
“You know he doesn’t have rabies.”
“You should see the way he acts when you’re not here. I’m telling you, he only pretends to be good in your presence. When I’m alone he takes pleasure in hiding and attacking my leg when I walk by. The animal is diabolically possessed, I tell you! Or at least brain-damaged.”
“Will you listen to yourself?” She raises her eyebrows. “You were really trying to protect me?”
“Look at this.” He shows her the newspaper.
Daniella reads the headlines: ZORRO STRIKES AGAIN!
“This is the third time in three weeks and the victims were all wearing mini skirts at the time of the attack. The stitches they put on the third victim—a rich lady who was out from a health club on her way to her car—got infected and she’s suing the whole damn hospital. They say she won’t be able to sit for months and she’ll be permanently scarred for life. I don’t want any lunatic slashing your—”
“On top of that, young girls seem to be disappearing everywhere and no one knows why. This island is degenerating into Hell itself.”
“Since when are you so concerned about other people? No one’s going to do anything to me.” She tosses the newspaper back on the bed. “Really, Tony. I can’t let an article in the newspaper tell me how to dress. I like mini skirts. In most parts of the world women wear mini skirts and live to see their grandchildren.” She starts toward the door. “I’m going to El Patio de Sam and I’ll have a nice time with my friend and then I’ll stop at the market. If you’re always so worn down is because of malnutrition, not because of any cat hairs.”
“Mari Carmen is radical. I can’t imagine what you two talk about. You have nothing in common.”
“Just like you and I, Tony darling?” she asks sweetly.
Tony sighs. “Don’t go.”
I turn around. There he is, standing in his underwear in the middle of the room with his arms extended toward me, a pleading, puppy-like look in his eyes. I should ignore him, teach him a lesson and walk out the door. But I just linger here. And then he takes advantage of my momentary confusion and slowly begins to approach me, like a cat stalking a bird. With one hand he pulls me toward him and with the other he curls a lock of my hair around his finger. He rubs his cheek against mine and I feel the scratchy stiffness of his beard and smell the musky scent of his flesh. I must be in a trance because I feel as though I’m not here. I mean, I’m here but I’m not here.
“Don’t go,” Tony whispers.
“Why should I stay here? So that you can go back to your painting and ignore me?”
“I won’t ignore you, I promise. And the painting is almost finished. After I’m done with it we’ll cuddle up in bed and watch TV. There’s a horror movie tonight.”
“Even if I don’t meet Mari Carmen, I still have to get some food. We don’t have anything to eat.”
“Okay, go and get some wine and beer and when you get back we’ll have a little party. What do you say?”
“We need some food, Tony.” Daniella peers into his eyes, uneasy. Lately Tony never wants to eat solid food and has manipulated her again with his luring, animal charms.
“Whatever you say, little fox. Bring some Ben & Jerry’s, cookie dough.”
When Daniella comes back from the supermarket she finds Tony sprawled on the bed and Commando stretched out on top of his stomach, placidly licking his paws.
Tony props himself up on his elbows. His pupils are fixed and dilated and strangely glittery. He looks comatose.
Daniella stands by the door, paralyzed, each arm holding a bag of groceries. The stereo is playing Metallica and on the TV an old woman is stabbing a man in the chest with a pair of knitting needles.
Tony smiles and raises an arm towards her. He’s offering her something. She can’t see what it is but she knows what it is.
“Would you like a one-way ticket to hell?” he says.
This excerpt originally appeared in El Nuevo Dia newspaper, San Juan, Puerto Rico.