ANNE MARSELLA’S short-story collection, “The Lost and Found”, is a passport into foreign terrain not to be found on a tourist’s map. ‘”There are streets in Paris where the tourist seeking thrill and knapsack curio does not venture.” So begins a story, ‘”The Roommates;’ about two young, women. Mary (from Kenya) and Selma (from Turkey), who work in a Parisian sweatshop and share their boss as a lover.
They live on one of those streets not pointed out to tourists, and lead the sort or lives most of us don’t know much about. This is Ms. Marsella’s ambition, to take lbe reader down the unmapped streets of the West and let us see them through a third-world sensibility: “the deracinated seekers, the beauties and the beasts [who) came to this city perhaps I because at despair or because of lust.”
Anne Marsella, who was awarded the Elmer Holmes Bobst Award for Emerging Writers for this collection. was born in Fresno, Calif., but now lives in Paris. The opening story, “Miss Carmen” is set in California, a place considered golden by the wily Miss Carmen, who has moved from Chile to the San Joaquin Valley, where “she lived in guest bedrooms In the homes of wealthy matrons.” Miss Carmen finds in the United States a world of color television sets, Louis XIV fauteuils, beautiful homes that “can be cleaned with a pinkie… and closets filled with fiesta shoes of the mistress.” When she is gone you can put them on and iron this way.” Carmen smiles with her silver-capped “beauty tooth” as she holds out her employer’s silver trays and asks, “You wantie?” She’s a practical woman, whose “dreams never exceeded her want,” until she meets the ranch foreman. Manuel. Manuel is a man “Like those she had left behind her in Las Pampas.” When he fails to notice that Miss Carmen even exists, all the beautiful artifacts, even the fabulous and covered Louis XIV chairs, cannot hide the fact that “the Valley of San Joaquin” is a desert.
Most at Ms. Marsella’s characters come from third-world countries and arrive in foreign surroundings where they expect their dreams to be answered. For help to achieve their dreams they invoke and beseech Allah, the Sacred Mother, St. Jude and many other saints, including St. Martin the Pilose, “patron saint of Culinary Preparation.” They also turn to Arab seers and African mediums.
In one at the best stories, ‘”The Mission San Martin,” a humorous epistolary tale that suddenly turns very, very dark, Father LeFève, a French priest in Mexico, pleads with his parishioners for more funds to build a culinary school. where local youths will learn to prepare the French foods he misses.
In the title story, “The Lost and Found,” Dulce Maria O’RiIey de Vaca works part time as a claqueur, applauding for a television program called “The Lost and Found Show.” She is searching for her faithless father, an international jewel thief, through a series of religious want ads calling upon the patron saint or lost causes, St. Jude. One day she decides to buy a financial magazine and “to claim her own fate and time” because she realizes she doesn’t “need a patron of lost causes. She wasn’t hopeless. She was merely betrayed.”
Ms. Marsella’s style of storytelling brings to mind folk tales and recent Latin American fiction. The voice she assumes is omniscient, opinionated and compassionate. “Dulce Maria O’Rlley de Vaca lived in a one-room flat above a Moroccan disco on the rue des Quatres Camemberts. She dined alone: she prepared haricots alone; she made love alone on occasion. Was she !one!y? No, but she was alone. At least a good part of the day. She did have some time on her hands and was learning to claim it, although not as her own exactly. She might demand her due and then sift the deed though her fingertips mischievously. That was how much she cared to own a moment. Oh not a bit.!”
Throughout the collection Ms. Marsella’s writing is precise and has the rare ability to be both oratorical and intimate. Her use of language is erudite, incantatory, occasionally fanciful. The stories are earthy and spiritual, particular and universal, and often very sly and funny. The range and diversity Anne Marsella displays, stunning for a first collection, give convincing proof of a fresh talent emerging with full, and impressive, power.