When relationships get complicated, some people seek out a therapist. But in Miami, more than a few head straight to the babalaó, a spiritual consultant who is presumably blessed with the ability to see the things that we cannot.
But if you think that psychic powers will somehow help you avoid love’s pitfalls, author Anjanette Delgado is here to show you why you are wrong.
“Some people who constantly are visiting santeros are often just looking to confirm what their intuition is already telling them. I’ve got one friend who will go to one santero, not hear what she wants to hear, then go to another and another until she gets the answer she’s looking for,” says Delgado, whose light-hearted second novel explores this phenomenon.
In The Clairvoyant of Calle Ocho (Kensington, $15), Delgado introduces us to Mariela, a 39-year- old bookworm who lives in the fictitious community of Coffee Park in Little Havana and has the gift of sight — but still can’t seem to catch a break.
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We meet Mariela in the midst of a tryst with her pretentious married lover Hector, owner of a small bookshop in Little Havana who imagines Mitchell Kaplan — the owner of Books & Books who makes an extended cameo — to be his arch-nemesis.
Hector, a tenant in Mariela’s Coffee Park fourplex, is a literary snob who derides Mariela’s want of college education and opens up her world, one book at a time. He is the latest link in a chain of married men Mariela sought out after divorcing two different cheating husbands. “It’s true that understanding men has nothing to do with predicting the future and everything to do with being able to see clearly what is already right in front of you,” Mariela admits.
As all philandering men in literature deserve, Hector winds up dead on a park bench. And like all mistresses in a murder mystery, Mariela becomes a person of interest. Just in time to help solve the crime, Mariela’s long-suppressed gift — her ability to hear the “whispering and calling of people I couldn’t always see” and “feel the dark weight of strangers’ secrets when they walked past me” — begins to return. Hers is an inherited ability that she silenced after it failed to warn her that her mother would lose her battle to cancer.
Delgado, who appears Friday to talk about the book at Books & Books in Coral Gables, understands Mariela’s longing to turn off the switch.
“That’s one of the only things I have in common with Mariela. I don’t want to see too much,” she says. “I want to see the now. I want to see clearer right now so that I could make better decisions. But I don’t want to see the future. I think what a huge burden that would be. It’s one of the things that fueled my compassion for Mariela.”
As she begins to redevelop her sight (“Clairvoyance was like riding a bike.”), Mariela is soon being followed by spirits, plagued by strange dreams and visions, and snooping around Little Havana efficiencies to piece together the puzzle. Her search takes her on a journey through the relationships she has developed (or tried to avoid) on the Calle Ocho of Delgado’s imagination — a slightly more bohemian and liberal universe that still retains the neighborhood’s essence of a tropical urban refuge for transient people who need to be “somewhere for now.” Mariela orbits the small businesses that somehow still thrive on this strip, as if by some act of economic brujería, hunting for clues — the botanica, the mom and pop hardware store, her lover’s old book store, the herbalist.
“I wanted to show my dream for Calle Ocho, my ideal of Calle Ocho,” says Delgado, who thinks the neighborhood has been unfairly sidelined by more trendy areas like the Design District and Wynwood, but still has the potential to truly be Miami’s artistic hub. “There’s so much cultural energy there.”
The quest even leads Mariela to Books & Books in Coral Gables, where she, like hippies and 20-year-olds, seeks wisdom in the New Age section. (Owner Mitchell Kaplan was tickled at the idea of being written in to the book: “‘Charming independent book store owner?’ It is fiction, after all! Actually I was very flattered by her portrayal and impressed by her promotional savvy. After discovering that I was included, I tripled my order.”)
But including Books & Books wasn’t clever product placement. It was more of a tribute to a local landmark that the native of Puerto Rico has long frequented.
“When I got to Miami 20 years ago there was nothing in this barren place. There were few museums, few book stores,” Delgado says. “The one place I would take refuge in was Books & Books.”
Exploring the ways women cope with disappointment and failed love is not new terrain for Delgado. Her first novel, The Heartbreak Pill, also demonstrates the lengths women will go to protect their wounded hearts. In the novel, the protagonist, a gifted scientist, creates a drug that helps her forget her pain.
And while Mariela’s strategy of sticking to married men helps stifle her own frustrations for a while, it also prevents her from finding true happiness. “People see the cover of the book and they think this is a book about ‘the other woman,’” Delgado says. “But no, it’s about seeing in many different ways, the levels of seeing, the ways that we create our own prisons as women.”
But Mariela’s journey to regain her sight leads her to more than just love. It renews her understanding of friendship, community and duty.
“Once you see, you have a responsibility to act,” Delgado said.
Meet the author
Who: Anjanette Delgado
When: 8 p.m. Friday
Where: Books & Books, 265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables
Info: 305-442-4408 or www.booksandbooks.com