Agustin Aguilar - Focusing on a boy named Arturo who one day finds and befriends a pyramid that is simultaneously his shadow, a chalice of lore and history, and a living entity (perhaps a goddess), 'Leonora Come Down' invites readers to observe, absorb, and untangle an otherworldly puzzle
Agustin Aguilar, Leonora Come Down, We Heard You Like Books, 2016.
Giants made of rock. People made of clay. The moon who walks the earth as a man and digs through garbage. Fairy tales told by a primitive lake people, nothing more.
In Wiskatchekwa, reality is made of firmer, cleaner stuff. So the town thinks.
Beneath layers of sediment in the ancient lakebed, Wiskatchekwa keeps secrets. It may be why Arturo, a boy, has brought home a sentient basalt pyramid, or why he begins to see a triangular shadow cast by his body. In his town, rumors and suspicions swirl about in the wind, and truth, he finds, is a creature that lives in a lake. A lake, along with the inhabitants along its shore, that may be returning to their land.
Where lies the line between myth, falsehood, and reality? That is one of the central questions buried amid, gorgeous, poetic prose in Agustin Aguilar’s novella Leonora Comes Down, recently published by We Heard You Like Books. This work of fiction, elegant and lush in its descriptions, its mythos, and the world it creates revolving around small town Wiskatchekwa is a challenging yet intimate read. Focusing on a boy named Arturo who one day finds and befriends a pyramid that is simultaneously his shadow, a chalice of lore and history, and a living entity (perhaps a goddess), Leonora Come Down invites readers to observe, absorb, and untangle an otherworldly puzzle.
Aguilar’s writing style finds a comfortable footing somewhere between William Faulkner, Margaret Atwood, and Harper Lee. His xenophobic, conservative hamlet of Wiskatchekwa is as fully imagined and populated by quirky characters as Maycomb or the small, gossipy town from “A Rose for Emily.” The novella requires intense reading, which may not work for everyone, but those who choose to will find the long, river-like sentences to be short poems themselves:
Sand was a fearful thing, like bobbleheads of the high school’s mascot, Red the Warrior, but they felt secure, they could sleep over a shapeless ghost of the past–though townspeople did not go in for flowery comparisons–because it wasn’t as if Wiskatchekwa were waves of drift, they also had silt and clay, great ingredients for growth, and the restrictive feature wasn’t far below.
Such sentences are frequent in Leonora Come Down and they typify the novella’s pleasures and pains. Though short, parsing through the many details in a single sentence may be challenging.
When I asked Agustin Aguilar about his influences, he replied, “The writer most on my mind when I began this story was Leonora Carrington, who of course lends her name. She is somewhat of a spiritual presence, a companion, in all of this. I’d count her novel, The Hearing Trumpet, as a particular influence. Stylistically, the influences vary. I wanted the language, at the line level, to read sort of effortlessly (though I realize some might take more than a little effort!). To be fairly simple, in terms of the imagery, the sentiment, the action. This is the fairy and folklore influence. And yet many sentences have a run-on quality, this sense of uncertainty and unnerving forward momentum. So there is tension in the narrative voice. This is also due to the task of weaving extraordinary events into a seemingly mundane setting–it was important that I keep the story rooted in a semi-recognizable place.”
Aguilar’s story deals primarily in the ways people doubt the new, fear change, but eventually come together. The town, Wiskatchekwa, wishes to remain small, fears the South and the people of the nearby lake. It is a world couched in revisionist history and superstition. Wiskatchekwa is less a setting than a character itself–reminiscent of Harper Lee or William Faulkner’s places. Aguilar’s fictional berg is a lively, opinionated, and occasionally antagonistic place. Wiskatchekwa resists change, while making revisions to its own history. Wiskatchekwa is pan-optic in the way small towns are: nothing escapes its gaze and no issue goes on without comment. The book’s main characters, Arturo and Leonora, are scrutinized, labeled, and qualified by the town’s magical collective consciousness. Wiskatchekwa is a character ripped from time, misplaced, but also stone-set, serving as both lens and parrot for common and universal fears and superstitions. Arturo’s worldview is motivated and limited by what the town and townspeople think. The town’s perception is a primary source of conflict.
Magical realism is also prominent in Aguilar’s world. Only Arturo remains consistent, serving as an innocent but knowing proxy for the reader; he takes the world at its face. Arturo is a vessel, willing to learn, repeating the prejudices and fears of the other townsfolk as a conveyance for sharing them with us.
Leonora Comes Down is about humanity and community, about what we choose to believe and the things we choose to deny. Aguilar’s novella is an exploration of truth, pondering the impacts of gossip, misinformation, and xenophobia. Readers will explore the ways we build our egos–and the egos of our communities–on believable, repeatable fictions, and the way that we often blindly trust whatever culture is handed down to us from generations prior.
Leonora Comes Down is also a self-reflexive study of myth and storytelling. The novella often focuses on the ways that we use stories to control each other, to change reality, and even to improve this world. Much of culture comprises the ways we look at the world and the stories we tell ourselves to try and understand it.
Suffice to say, Leonora Come Down is a brilliant work of magical realism, poetic prose, pseudo-Gothic fiction, and epistemological philosophy. The journey from page one to its satisfying and poignant ending will leave the reader with much to think about. Aguilar’s work is stunning, beautiful, with its own elaborate and believable mythos. His is a story of stories and storytellers, and despite its intricate, challenging form, one of the most rewarding books you may ever read. - Nate Ragolia