Peter Chase, friend and former colleague of Ralph, reviews The Illustrated Fractured Fables in June
Ralph M. Flores’s The Illustrated Fractured Fables (2020) follows its predecessor, Tales from La Perla: A Misspent Hippie Youth (2018), in being published posthumously by Ralph’s widow, Geri Rhodes. At first glance, the two books seem to share nothing in common. The Fables are fiction, the Tales non-fiction (poems aside); the Fables are populated by animals, the Tales by humans (Good Dog aside). The Fables are child-like and will appeal to children; Tales from La Perla is primarily about, and for, adults. Yet a major similarity between them exists: the focus on social interaction and how life forms – animal and human – struggle to navigate their way through their worlds (often misbehaving).
Indeed, in The Illustrated Fractured Fables, the themes of the various fables would be comfortably at home in any “human” fiction. We encounter greed (“Ka-Ching!”, “Sharing”), fear and the herd mentality (“Homeland Security,” “Revolution!”), aspiration and power (“Big Dogs, Little Dogs,” “The President”), vanity (“All in Vain”), stubbornness (“Stubborn”), and the trap of materialism (“Treasures”).
The last fable, “Big Truth, Little Truth” is a wonderfully wry illustration of the philosophical maxim that perception determines reality. When a human scientist proves, “mathematically,” that bumble bees cannot fly, the bumble bees accept it as truth and “stayed in town, hanging around the street corners with their hands in their pockets, not knowing what to do.” This goes on until Old Mose, the wisest bumble bee, proves, also mathematically, that scientists do not exist; thus, no problem exists, and bumble bee life resumes.
From Monkey, who “got religion” but lies that a cake is poison so he can have it to himself, to the loitering bumble bees, to the shallow, fashion-obsessed animal community, Ralph’s wryness and insight are in abundance throughout the Fables. And being fables, of course, they end with morals, some straightforward (“Always be wary of lifetime guarantees”), some hilariously ironic (“Many people are stubborn, so always be ready to stand firm and hold your ground”), and some just plain wise (“Of course God is everywhere, but so are fools”).
The delightful illustrations deserve special note. Each fable is illustrated by a family member or friend, further accentuating that this is a work of collaborative love and joy. The book includes two end sections about the illustrators. The first contains their thoughts about the fable they chose to illustrate; the second consists of short biographical entries about the artists.
And, in a touching piece, “Reflection,” William Paul Martin places Ralph’s works in the literary tradition of Aesop, Sophocles, Steinbeck, and others, rightly emphasizing Ralph’s place there, not only for the common ground they all cover, but also for their shared wit and depth. In The Illustrated Fractured Fables, that wit and depth almost leap off the page.
So thank you to Geri Rhodes for publishing this wonderful book, thank you to the illustrators for illustrating it, and thank you especially to Ralph M. Flores for so beautifully creating an animal world of foibles and contradictions instantly recognizable to humans.
David Steinberg’s Albuquerque Journal Mother’s Day Review of The Illustrated Fractured Fables
May 2021 Reader Response to The Illustrated Fractured Fables
Artemis Chakerian, a friend from Vassar Book Club, sent this reaction:
I enjoyed (honestly!) every Fable. I laughed out loud with each one (“Diligence”: “Since he learned these virtues at his father’s knee, so to speak…”), cheered at some (“Big Truth, Little Truth”: “I have just proven mathematically that scientists do not exist!”), appreciated mankind’s foibles and serious deficiencies presented through animal personalities to soften the truth (Oh, no, do I resemble that remark?), and loved how each fable ended with a moral twist (the fracture of each fable?) that applies to global concerns today.
The illustrations are delightful, especially of Chico, who has not quite made it through the hole in the fence.
The overwhelming love and goodwill of everyone (including Nina and Benny) who contributed to this book shine through.
Thank you so much for sending me the book. I’m still laughing about and picturing Willie Worm sitting at his father’s knee. The conversations throughout the fables were such fun.
Richard J. Griego responds to El caballo en la cocina (email to the editor 3.27.20)
“I am reading El Caballo en la Cocina. The translation is very good. It is accessible and unadorned, much like Ralph’s writing. I have found some New Mexican words such as “cubeta” instead of the standard “cubo” for bucket in El Toro de Elutherio. Patricia Padilla did a good job. A Nuevomexicano audience will find her translation familiar. I am looking forward to reading more of the book.”
Richard Griego was the first director of Chicano Studies at the University of New Mexico. Richard has recently written The Spanish Language of New Mexico: A Cultural History, a book which I hope will soon be published.
Tomé Dominguez de Mendoza Community Center
Thursday, August 15, 2019 from 7-8 p.m.
Ralph Flores’s Tales from La Perla and The Horse in the Kitchen: Stories of a Mexican-American Family
Reading by Geri Rhodes
2933 Highway 47, Tomé, NM 87060
Q & A and Refreshments afterwards
Albuquerque Journal review by David Steinberg
July 14, 2019
‘Tales from La Perla’ shares inside stories
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Ralph M. Flores’ posthumously published book “Tales from La Perla, A Misspent Hippie Youth” combines fact and fiction.
Most of the tales are based on Flores’ recollections of four-plus years in the mid-1970s living in La Joya – fictionalized as La Perla – a village about 20 miles north of Socorro. A few other tales are set in southwestern New Mexico, San Francisco and Tomé.
The characters who populate the stories are real people, though their names have been changed. Older La Perla townspeople are sometimes at odds with the younger self-identified “freaks” (aka hippies) who dropped out of mainstream society and moved to the village.
In the tale “TV in La Perla,” the author tells how he arrived in town with unwanted worldly possessions from a divorce. One possession was a TV, the only one in town. Soon the TV was on day and night and drew crowds. Flores couldn’t cope.
But it did get him to speculate about what his fellow freaks really wanted by distancing themselves from the big city and from thoughts of the Vietnam War and President Nixon. Or maybe these dropouts didn’t even know for sure what they wanted.
Flores finally solved the TV dilemma: It ended up in a bathtub. The tale “Feast!” tells of two annual parties for freaks in La Perla.
The Spring Equinox celebration began in the evening with music, dancing, drinking and marijuana smoking. It attracted people from towns along the Rio Abajo such as Polvadera, Veguita and Las Nutrias, as well as freaks from Socorro, Albuquerque and from as far north as Dixon and Taos, Flores writes. The other major party was at Thanksgiving. It was a daytime, dinner-centered event and was more contemplative, as he put it.
In the tale “La Perla People,” Flores concludes that La Perla’s freaks probably just wanted to be left alone. “We had a little island we lived in and were happy there,” he writes. Overall, he recalled La Perla’s freaks as a “stream of misfits and discontents who would come, move into an empty house, stay for two or three months, sometimes longer, and then leave.”
Life was not all love and peace during their stay. There were relationship disputes, emotional turmoil and moments of anger, he writes.
The freaks eventually returned to the world they had rejected. “Ultimately, I think we all learned that it is possible to live in modern society without feeling trapped,” Flores explains.
He had taught at the University of New Mexico and years later retired from teaching at Central New Mexico Community College. Flores also wrote “The Horse in the Kitchen, Stories of a Mexican-American Family,” a work based on the life of his father. A Spanish language edition is planned.
Flores died in 2017 at age 77. His widow, Geri Rhodes, edited “Tales from La Perla.”
“He was a homebody,” Rhodes said of her late husband, “and … could spend a lot of time in his study just thinking, so much so that somebody once gave him a T-shirt that said ‘Lost in thought – Send out a search party.’ The best way to know who he was would be to read his poems and moral tales …” Several poems are in “Tales from La Perla.”
Review of Tales from La Perla
by Peter Chase, singer, songwriter, colleague, friend
28 June 2019
Ralph Flores’s Tales from La Perla is a collection of short prose pieces about the author’s time in La Joya, NM, which he renames La Perla (The Pearl) for the book. Published posthumously by Geri Rhodes, Ralph’s wife, the pieces recount Ralph’s time in the early 1970s, living in a small community of people who, like him, were searching for a simpler and more meaningful existence, less focused on materialism and more focused on self-sustainability and the rhythms of nature. The residents were varied. Some, like Ralph, were academics who had tired of that life. Some came from well-to-do backgrounds; some were fleeing the law. But all considered themselves “freaks,” not “hippies” (an important distinction) and were searching for an alternative to the mainstream madness.
For readers who grew up in the 60s, there is much here to relate to. For younger readers, it may seem like a magical, mythical time, and, as Ralph tells us, in many ways, it was. But, as he also warns, “living harmoniously with others can be very difficult.” La Perla, he writes, “was a filter which separated those who truly wanted community from those who thought they wanted it, but for their own reasons were incapable of grasping it.” And indeed, among the residents, we see examples of pride, pettiness, jealousy — in short, all of the vices and foibles of conventional, mainstream society. Yet we also see an innocence, a decency, and a sincere belief in the virtues of community that are very attractive in these times. We could do worse than La Perla.
Ralph’s prose is a delight, always lithe and clear, never self-indulgent. Each piece draws us in, whether it focuses on the dynamics of personal interactions or how to build a house. Ralph himself alternates in these tales between being the main participant and an almost invisible narrator.
The last few chapters of the book take us away from La Perla to San Francisco and Silver City, and though curious readers might like to know more about Ralph’s eventual exit from La Perla, they will have to content themselves with what we have: excellent tales, seemingly sprung from a time capsule, and a handful of finely chiseled poems.
At the beginning of the book, Ralph writes that the freaks of La Perla truly believed in forming a community “where people live together, cooperate, and help each other and even learn to love each other.” He adds, “We may seem foolish and naive to the pundits for thinking so, but even now, more than forty years later, I don’t believe we were either wrong or foolish.”
They weren’t, as this book lovingly attests.
Other 2019 Readings
Tranquil Buzz Coffee Shop in Silver City
“Just Words” at 2 p.m. Saturday July 20, 2019
Geri Rhodes reading from Ralph Flores’s “Beyond La Perla” in Tales from La Perla
112 W Yankie St, Silver City, NM 88061
June 16, 2019, Saturday in La Joya, NM
starting at 1 p.m. (outdoors)
“Celebration for Fathers”
Sponsored by Rio Abajo Community Library (Donna Mathieus, Library Director)
Calle De Centro S, La Joya, NM 87028
Gair Linhart, MC and Special Orchestra leader
Performing: Youth orchestra and possibly Special Orchestra
Reading: “A Father’s Tears” from The Horse in the Kitchen reprint (2019)
READINGS from Tales from La Perla
May 21, 2019, Tuesday at 6 p.m.
4022 Rio Grande Blvd NW, Albuquerque, NM 87107
between Montaño and Griegos on Rio Grande
Book Review: Tales from La Perla
Rio Abajo Community Library Leaves
Newsletter of the library in La Joya, NM
January/February 2019 / Volume 7, Issue 4 p. 8
In the 70s, quite a few “hippies” moved into the area, including La Joya, which Ralph Flores dubbed “La Perla,” meaning “The Pearl.” They made quite an impression, and the community made quite an impression on them. One such free-thinking soul was Ralph M. Flores. This book relays the stories about the people and experiences he had during the five years he lived here. Mr. Flores eventually settled in Edge City, but the lessons, memories and pictures of his time in La Joya are wonderful. It is a hard book to put down! We are so pleased that the Rio Abajo Community Library was provided a copy by Geri Rhodes, who took Mr. Flores’ manuscript and had it published. It is available to borrow, and if you want your own copy ($12), contact Geri at email@example.com or at PO Box 458, Tome, NM 87060
Tales from La Perla also featured in Cover Reads
(bimonthly notice to bookstores and libraries)