REVIEW: “La Ciguapa, For the Reeds, For Herself” by J.M. Guzman

Review of J.M. Guzman, “La Ciguapa, For the Reeds, For Herself”, Apex Magazine 111 (2018): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

Sandra’s husband hunts La Ciguapa with her dog. One rainy night, when she has grown sick of how he treats her, she has her dog lead her to the monster herself. Le Ciguapa, who prefers to be called Josefina, helps Sandra, first to dry off, and later to start a new life. But first, she shows Sandra her graveship.

The narration in this story is fascinating. The speaker is alternately talking to a brother and a sister. She tells them the same story, explains the same things, but in different ways and in radically different tones. I found that confusing at first, but once I settled into the rhythm, it brought a greater depth to an already complex story.

I feel like much of this story went over my head. It spans three generations, and while there is a common thread between them, I was not entirely sure what was happening sometimes. That is probably my own fault: according to my research, Le Ciguapa is a figure from Dominican folklore, and as such, it is distinctly possible that this story draws on cultural understandings and experiences that I do not share. But even if I didn’t fully follow the narrative, the emotional resonance came through loud and clear, and that kept me riveted to every word.

I have rarely seen a story that projects such raw anger. Not the bonfire of a momentary rage, but the banked coals that have waited for decades to rise up and consume, directed by and for a clear purpose. This is righteous rage that makes no apologies and takes no excuses.

This is a story of oppression and fear and patience. It is beautiful and powerful, and well-worth reading, as long as you are not wedded to clear, linear plots.