The Good Works of Ayela Linde
Charlotte Forbes

Arcade Publishing 2006
Hardcover/227 pages
ISBN: 1-55970-807-7

". . . for a first novel, Forbes has delivered a well-written story in a poetic and honest voice."

The Good Works of Ayela Linde by Charlotte Forbes is a novel composed of sixteen independent stories masterfully linked to reveal the life of the beautiful and enchanting Ayela Linde who was born in the border town of Santa Rosalia.

The stories are told by observers, friends and family of Ayela, the illegitimate daughter of a Mexican seamstress, and the seventeen-year-old wife of Frederick Linde, a Boston lawyer, “who was passing through Santa Rosalia when the sigh of Ayela Garzón so impressed him he abandoned his travels and pursued her as if she were his only chance for happiness.”

Written chronologically, the story begins in 1936 where we are introduced to the community cultural traits. At the hour of Ayela’s Caribbean grandmother’s death, all the flowers in town wilt; a sign was on its way. There is a the question of her burial in “holy ground” because the grandmother had healing powers and was thought to be a witch. But Frederick intervenes and, in the dead of night in secret, the priest gives the signal, and the body is lowered into a grave in the church cemetery.

Contrary to the title of the book, Ayela’s suspicious and mysterious behavior didn’t always result in “good works.” In the “The Wooden Swan” Ayela drives to a gas station in a large silver car. She spots a hand-carved swan in the station and is determined to buy it for her husband who is building an Arts Pavilion in Santa Rosalia. Pepillo, the artist, protests because he has promised this perfect swan to the church, but he can’t refuse the money. The following day when Ayela has misgivings and returns the swan, she discovers Pepillo in ruin. He freely bought rounds of drinks at the bar and spent the rest on gambling while bragging that he was an artist. Pepillo’s story begins, “I’d take a knife to her if I have a chance.”

The most compelling story is near the end, “The Marvelous Yellow Cage.” Forbes skillfully threads pieces from each of the other stories to create a montage. Forbes compares Ayela’s final days in Santa Rosalia to birds in a cage that “pecked to bleeding the hands of anyone who tried to remove them” from the place they loved. Her decision to stay in the small town or move with her three sons to Boston, the town their father had abandoned, brings the story to an expected but sympathetic end.

The last story ends in 2004 when Ayela’s granddaughter visits the town and discovers no one remembers Ayela and Frederick Linde, but she uncovers her own artistic talent.

Forbes has successfully developed an intriguing novel. Unfortunately, many of the short stories are written in third person, which may be the reason some of the characters were not as vivid as others. However, for a first novel Forbes has delivered a well-written story in a poetic and honest voice.
Reviewer: Kate Padilla