By Pamela Tarajcak
In Barry Gifford’s book, Wild at Heart, Sailor Ripley gets re-imprisoned after a feed store robbery gone bad. He was an accomplice to the newly deceased Bobby Peru. Their getaway driver was Bobby’s “girl” Perdita Durango. Barry Gifford immediately wrote a sequel to Wild at Heart focusing on this side character in her own novella length book: Perdita Durango.
Perdita Durango picks up a little after Perdita flees from the feed store robbery. After an introductory section in San Antonio, she travels to New Orleans where she hooks up with (in many senses of the term) a criminal low-life named Romeo Dolorosa. Later Perdita and Romeo, both interested in a Latin American form of witchcraft, Santeria, decided to perform a ritual which involves human sacrifice. They closet themselves in an abandoned ranch nearby to prepare for the sacrifice. They also kidnap a young couple, Estella and Duane, with the intent of using one for the sacrifice. However, Perdita and Romeo take a bit of a shine to the young couple and keep them around against the young couple’s will. Meanwhile, the local law catches on to something untoward happening at the ranch and start a lookout into this. They sort of figure out that there’s going to be a rather seedy ritual happening and call Perdita the
“Priestess” of the act. Romeo knows, however, that he needs to keep a getaway in his back pocket, so he turns to Marcello “Crazy Eyes” Santos for means of escape. Santos,ruler of the underworld in the whole American Southeast, gives him a job that requires the transport of (here it gets a little sick and weird so ones with queasy stomachs, you are warned) human placenta to Los Angeles to be used in Santos’s illegal cosmetics industry.
Perdita performs the ritual (luridly described in the chapter entitled “The Other Side of the River”). By this point, the local authorities also learn that Estella and Duane have been
kidnapped and are seeking them. This means that Perdita and Romeo, in order to complete Santos’s job, must drag Estella and Duane with them on the way to Los Angeles. Mostly leaving the teens tied up in motel rooms, the criminals also ‘treat’ Estella and Duane to meals at restaurants and a drive-in-movie. Sometime during the road trip, Romeo is assigned to rendezvous with one of Santos’ men named Pete. This goes south, as the authorities caught up with Romeo. Pete is killed in the ambush. Also at this point, a hapless DEA Agent Woody Dumas goes on the trail of the criminals. Also at this point, Santos, very upset at the death of his good friend and lieutenant, calls orders hits on several people, including Romeo–assigned to Santos’s own Caribe lieutenant, Reggie—and Woody. The hit on Woody proves unsuccessful as the Agent is able to defend himself.
Eventually, Perdita figures “it was over between her and Romeo. She wouldn’t say anything yet, just let the deal go down and pick her spot to split. Maybe take care of this Estrellita bitch before then.” (254). Back in Texas, Estella’s father Ernest Tubbs goes off on his own to search for his daughter and gets killed.
When the criminals and the teens make it to LA, Romeo contacts an old friend, Doug Fakaofo, who will be at Romeo’s side during the exchange. Perdita, Estella and Duane are to stay with Lily, Doug’s wife while the exchange goes down. When the exchange does happen, Reggie completes the hit against Doug and Romeo just as the law comes in. (The authorities are very happy that Santos did the job for them.) Over the radio, Lily learns of Romeo and her husband’s deaths and kicks Perdita and the couple out. The couple finally are liberated and begin to head home. Perdita yet again escapes from the clutches of the law. We last find her Tupelo, Mississippi picking up yet another man on the road. Santos is happy that Romeo was hit, not pleased that Reggie is in prison, and apathetic with Perdita’s escape.
Throughout the course of this book, Gifford keeps the pace quick. Also the two or three interweaving narratives keep the reader involved in the story. Moreover, as in Wild at Heart, Gifford writes quite a bit of the same “slice of life” conversations where one of the characters tells a story, and through that story one learns more about them or someone they once knew. Therefore, with the tone and pacing, there is a sure return to the familiar.
As this is a sequel, Perdita is a strange choice for Gifford to continue the story. In the film, because of Isabella Rossellini’s magnetic acting, Perdita is a charismatic character. Even though she is still spirited in the book, (since the reader first meets her stabbing Peru in the leg), she is almost a superfluous character. Therefore, though the diversion of granting her a story was an entertaining one, there is plenty of uncertainty with how this will add to the narrative structure of the whole series. This is especially the case since Perdita, as of now, is a wholly stand-alone character. Remember, the book doesn’t have her involved in a vast conspiracy against Sailor and Lula as Lynch’s film. Nor does the book have her sister, Juana, make an appearance. In fact, Juana will never make an appearance. “Juana had been shot and killed by her husband, Tony, who was drunk, during an argument. Tony had then murdered his and Juana’s two daughters before putting the gun in his own mouth and blowing off the top of his skull. Perdita missed Juana, and her nieces, Consuelo and Concha, too. She guessed she might forever. Tony she always could have lived without.” (151) Therefore, without this vast criminal conspiracy that features in the film, Perdita is a woman alone, and not a wholly three-dimensional fleshed out character. It begs the question of what Gifford saw in the character to grant Perdita her own story.
It’s interesting that Santos is introduced here too. With Santos, the criminal underworld which is only hinted at in book one and is fully alive in the film, now gains some structure. Though it is interesting that this Santos is no mere second rate capo, he is the fully fledged “god-father” type. The ruler over all the underworld. In the film, Santos is a low-life who seems to lack real power except over the Fortune women. He had to beg Mr. Reindeer for help. One can’t help but wonder if Lynch had divided Santos in half to create both Santos and Mr. Reindeer as a conflation of both characters seem to fit Gifford’s description of his Marcello Santos. Also, with how important of a character Santos was in the film, it begs the question whether or not his character and his involvement will grow over the course of the seven books.
Perdita Durango is a good book. It entertains. It keeps the same tone and pace of the past book. It is just a head scratcher about how this will fit into a larger narrative of Sailor and Lula’s overall tale and about the choice of Perdita to be the subject of the immediate sequel to Wild at Heart when there were so many other characters to choose from.
Content note: Gifford does have use of the “n” word in the book. So reader be warned.
The version of the book I quote from is:
Gifford, Barry. Sailor and Lula: The Complete Novels. New York: Seven Stories Press,
- The Barnes and Noble Nook E-Book edition.