Murray, Yxta Maya
MURRAY, Yxta Maya
Loyola Law School, Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, CA, professor, 1995—; writer. Worked as law clerk for Honorable Harry Hupp, Central District of California, and Honorable Ferdinant Fernandez, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Pasadena, CA.
Whiting Award for exceptionally promising emerging writer of fiction, 1999.
Locas, Grove Press (New York, NY), 1997.
What It Takes to Get to Vegas, Grove Press (New York, NY), 1999.
The Conquest, Rayo (New York, NY), 2002.
Also author of short stories and articles, including "Becoming Latina," published on Latina.com.
Yxta Maya Murray wrote in an article for the online publication Latina.com that she was named for the legendary Aztec princess Ixtaccihuatl. The princess died upon hearing the false rumors of the death of her warrior-lover, Popocatepetl. Upon returning from battle and finding his lovely princess dead, Popo carried Ixta's body to the top of the mountain, and the two of them, to this day, watch over Mexico City. This story did not stop her classmates in Long Beach, California, where Murray grew up, from teasing her about her "tongue-twisting name." She did, however, gain self-confidence from having been named for such a legend. She has gone on to pursue two successful careers, in law and in writing.
In the online publication Stanford Lawyer, Murray explained that her work in law and her creative writing inform one another. Her stories, she stated, make her feel as if she were writing "little love letters to the community." Her first work of fiction, Locas, was described by Margaret Regan in Tucson Weekly as giving "razor-sharp life to la vida in a down-and-out Los Angeles barrio." Regan also referred to the novel as being a "horrifying new book." The story deals with the notorious gangs of Los Angeles and, especially, their women, the locas. The two main characters are the teenagers Cecilia and Lucia, who seem mainly interested in pleasing the male gang leaders. Cecilia hopes for little more than to get pregnant, but Lucia is more ambitious. She does not like what happens to most women in her community, who spend their days tending small babies and their nights being abused by the men. Lucia, according to Regan's article, is "Tough, smart and mean to the bone." She wants to be a jefa, a leader of a gang.
"Murray details these two girls' grim histories," wrote Rachel Stoll for New York Times, "with little sentimentality and much skill." Celeste Fremon in Los Angeles Times also praised Murray's writing skill, stating that her work is "fierce and persuasive." Yet the critic nonetheless questioned the accuracy of Murray's story. She feared that many people who are not familiar with the real life aspects of gang culture will believe that Murray's book provides a "genuine visit to the hidden and dangerous world of gangs." Concluding her review, Fremon wrote, "As a coming-of-age fable, Murray's story is passionate, poetic and, in so many ways, dazzling, but as a window into real life, it's a saddening misstep." Chicago Tribune Books critic Jody Miller was also concerned about how Murray tells her story. Miller wrote, "Murray's artistic license leads to an unrealistic portrait of the nature of girls' involvement in gangs." However, Miller also noted that in the end, "the story is a compelling read."
What It Takes to Get to Vegas tells the story of Rita Zapata, who dreams of rising out of poverty by marrying a boxer. According to Cara Mia Di Massa in Los Angeles Times Book Review, Murray's story "offers a swift, compelling portrait of the East L.A. boxing scene and a woman's place in it." The focus in the story is definitely on the women; male characters are present but are seen only through the women who attempt to control them. LA Weekly's Ben Ehrenreich described the male characters in Murray's second novel as providing "sex and status, but are for the most part little more than objects maneuvered in a game played by women." Billy Navarro is the boxer whom Rita clings to. He provides only a few elements of Rita's dream and shatters the rest of it with violence. "Everything that she [Rita] gains," wrote a reviewer for Publishers Weekly, "she attains by deceit." Rita finally achieves her dreams, but her slide back down the other side is swift. One of the good qualities of this book is that Murray does not judge her characters, the Publishers Weekly reviewer stated, but rather allows readers to come to their own conclusions.
The Conquest, Murray's third novel, is a story about Sara Gonzales, a rare-book restorer for the Getty Museum. As the story opens, Sara has just begun working on a manuscript written by a sixteenth-century woman called Helen, an Aztec princess. Helen was abducted by Fernando Cortez and taken to Europe for the benefit of the pope. When Sara brings Helen's manuscript to the attention of her boss and colleagues, they tell her that the story is nothing but fiction. Sara is determined to prove them wrong. In order to do so, she must dig into piles of old manuscripts and letters, a task that keeps her at work until late, affecting her relationship with her long-time boyfriend, Karl.
Two stories unfold in this novel. One deals with Sara and her struggles; the other focuses on Helen. Sara's life, however, proves to be the more complicated as she gets lost in indecision. Her boyfriend Karl has announced that he plans to marry another woman; and although Sara does not want to lose him, she cannot give him the time that their relationship demands.
"The great strength of The Conquest ", wrote Colleen Quinn for the online publication Bookreporter.com, "is its sensuality." Whether Murray is describing a love scene or the luxuriant paper of an old manuscript, or a delicious meal with European royalty, "she is contagious in her enjoyment of every gleam, every drop, every stroke." Another critic, this one from Publishers Weekly, found that the weaving of the two women's stories provided the most interest. "The subplot about Sara's literary sleuthing ties the two stories neatly together and gives the book a satisfying edge of suspense," the reviewer wrote.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Chicago Tribune Books, May 11, 1997, Jody Miller, "Twp Authors Look at Girls, Gangs and Violence," review of Locas, p. 6.
Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2002, review of The Conquest, pp. 1255-1256.
LA Weekly, September 3-9, 1999, Ben Ehrenreich, "Eastside, Westside," review of What It Takes to Get to Vegas.
Library Journal, April 1, 1997, Lawrence Rungren, review of Locas, p. 128; June 1, 1999, Dianna Moeller, review of What It Takes to Get to Vegas, p. 176.
Los Angeles Magazine, November, 2002, Ariel Swartley, review of The Conquest, pp. 134-136.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, June 15, 1997, Celeste Fremon, "Homegirls," review of Locas, pp. 10-11; August 29, 1999, Cara Mia Di Massa, review of What It Takes to Get to Vegas, p. 4.
New York Times, August 24, 1997, Rachel Stoll, review of Locas, p. 19; October 3, 1999, Barbara Sutton, review of What It Takes to Get to Vegas, p. 21.
Publishers Weekly, March 3, 1997, review of Locas, p. 62; June 28, 1999, review of What It Takes to Get to Vegas, p. 53; September 9, 2002, review of The Conquest. p. 42.
Stanford Lawyer Online,http://www.law.Stanford.edu/alumni/lawyer/ (spring, 2000), issue 57, "Alumni Profiles."
Tucson Weekly Online,http://www.tucsonweekly.com/ (June 5-June 11, 1997), Margaret Regan, "'Locas' Takes a Hard Look at an Even Harder Life.*"