Things We Like: Bruja
March 22, 2017
Wendy C. Ortiz’s Bruja forms its own slippery shape and structure through a new genre: dreamoir. Coined by the author, this narrative format relates highly detailed dreams over the course of four years. It’s defined as “a literary adventure through the boundaries of memoir, where the self is viewed from a position anchored in the deepest recesses of the mind.” This sets the stage for a deep dive into the countless worlds contained within the author’s unconscious populated with recurring characters and fraught with danger, emotion, and hidden insights into an everyday life we as readers never see. Reality has no place in dreams, other than to form echoes of memories and feelings within them. Readers will get an idea of Ortiz’s life, but the delight lies in the gorgeous turns of phrase that project her dreams into dazzling imagery.
Over the months chronicled, prominent players and settings emerge. Ortiz travels to Olympia (or not-Olympia) time and time again to visit Michael. She bounds among tumultuous feelings regarding a relationship with S., who she nearly marries before deciding the idea is against her principles. Her mother intermittently walks in on her and her lovers, or doesn’t, instead becoming a looming threat of intrusion just outside the door of her childhood bedroom. Many interactions leave her loudly angry or quietly fuming, while others, often zeroing in on her interior life rather than other people, leave her exhilarated. She saves people from disaster (earthquakes, huge waves, sharks) or leaps into the sky. Cats often flood rooms, her own always difficult to find among the crowd.
Without context, the people Ortiz dreams of remain mysterious, given meaning only from what she feels about them or how she believes they feel about her. Instead of making the narrative confusing, this allows Ortiz as a protagonist within the cumulative dreams to become better defined, stronger, and more intriguing as the months fly by. Imagery as surreal as Alice in Wonderland crops up, as when she dreams of being a pallbearer in charge of organizing boxes containing a body, each gift-wrapped and the size of a watch box, marked with signifiers such as a number or the etching of a rose. These interludes, often shorter, create a whimsical haze around the rest of the dreams, which can feel like explorations of long-mulled over, difficult conversations. It’s clear the dreamer is working through troubles found in daylight hours, just as we all do. However, most can’t put achingly beautiful words to the puzzles in our heads like Ortiz can.
Reading Bruja offers an entirely new experience. It’s difficult to put down, even as the dreams jump swiftly from scene to scene and month to month. Amorphous as the format may seem, the ending, labeled “Now,” hits hard, and you’re left with the blooming feeling of a bruise, the kind you can’t help but worry at and think of the blow that marked you long after the color fades.