A compact collection of poems, dramatic monologues and vignettes, Vanessa Libertad Garcia’s The Voting Booth After Dark follows a sexually diverse group of So Cal Latino club hoppers through the 2008 elections. None too surprisingly, the voyage can be a dark one. Voting Booth’s characters wrestle with substance and sexual addictions, with late-night despair. Yet there are also — with the groundbreaking election hovering in the background — moments of cautious optimism, too.
Garcia’s urbanites aren’t naive enough to uncritically swallow the election season rhetoric (as a funny chat dialog on the Democratic Primaries makes clear), but they still hold onto the simple belief that paying attention to it all makes them part of humanity. And so we follow Marta, the beer-bellied lesbian, as she preps to go out and critically assesses herself, has an uncomfortable meeting with an ex- in a bar, and steps into the voting booth on election day. “Didn’t sleep-in this morning AND I voted,” she says. “Fuck the trash. I’ll take it out tomorrow.” Her gay friend Diaz Diaz repeatedly flirts with thoughts of suicide yet takes comfort in a homeless vet who denies having such thoughts. “I find some forgiveness and comfort in the fact that he genuinely meant it,” Diaz states — which doesn’t prevent him from later revisiting his own suicidal ideations, of course.
Subtitled Despicable, Embarrassing, Repulsive, Garcia’s book holds up its characters’ patterns of self-destructive behavior without either moralizing or poetically idealizing. It’s a tricky balancing act but one which this succinctly worded little volume effectively and unsentimentally maintains.