Reading Today: What Night Brings by Carla Trujillo

What Night Brings by Carla Trujillo, who edited the ground-breaking anthology Chicana Lesbians: The Girls Our Mother Warned Us About, is the story of the life of eleven year old Marci Cruz, growing up in California in the 1960s. Marci tells us, the reader her secrets.  She has two prayers: the first is that her violently abusive father will go away; the second that God will physically change her from a girl into a boy.

The reason for her first prayer is obvious. What night brings is a father who, while at times loving and affectionate, can explode in fits of violence, beating Marci and her sister Corin with his belt and fists. Marci prays because her mother is so crazy with love for this man she ignores the escalating abuse of her daughters. One of the ways this story is unique is that Marci and her sister, for the most part, don’t romanticize their father, instead disowning him and calling him “Eddie” rather than dad.

Marci tells the reader she’s not praying for her father to die, just that he’ll go away. Her reason for not wishing him dead is she’s afraid that if she does God won’t answer her other bigger prayer, to be turned from a girl into a boy. This desire for a male body is intense, forming the basis of her dreams and sexual fantasies. Her reason for wanting a boy’s body is that she’s attracted to other girls and believes the only way she can have relationships with them is by becoming a boy.

Two traditional Chicano institutions are subtly criticized in the novel. Marci’s extended family knows about the father’s abuse of the girls and tries to moderate it, but ultimately can’t seem to step in and stop it. The Catholic Church is prayed to, with wishing taking the place of action for Marci. When, in the midst of the climax where her father begins beating her mother causing Corin to shoot Eddie, Marci stops wishing and praying and instead takes control. She gets her sister and herself out of the house, away from their mother whose only concern was her abuser, getting them from California to their grandmother in New Mexico, saving them both.

The book reminded me of Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina, in that the violence doesn’t detract from the beauty of the story, while also still being a graphic depiction of a child growing up abused.  As a Chicana text, it both questions the traditional family and religion, while also offering insight into the confusion of a girl growing into her lesbian desires. I would definitely recommend this book an important and engaging novel.

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