The twenty-two first person narratives in Siren Songs from the Heart of Austin connect through common settings, recurring characters, continuing themes, shared imagery, and intertwined plots. Aqua Vitae Café, in turn-of-the-millennium Austin, Texas, is the central connection for this short-story cycle; but the settings range from Austin to New Mexico to Guatemala and Honduras.
One of the main elements that links the characters who inhabit the cycle is food. All of the characters either work at, or patronize, the Aqua Vitae Café, for which the real-life model was Magnolia Café on South Congress (all the way down to the purple pterodactyl suspended from the main dining room ceiling). I waited tables at Magnolia Café in the late 1990s, and I absolutely fell in love with their menu. My personal favorites were the gingerbread blueberry pancakes and the fish tacos. They also serve a delicious special coffee blend that you can only get on the premises. Lots of customers come in and buy the beans in bulk to brew at home. Harry the Hippy is one of those fictional folks in the book. Interestingly, Harry (who lives down in the funky heart of South Austin not far from the Aqua Vitae Café) is also quite the cook himself. Two of his best dishes are bean and potato tacos with homegrown garlic and onions and fiery red chilipitins stir-fried in, and tacos de sesos (a specialty of Colima province in Mexico). In many ways, the element of food interconnects with the struggle of all the characters to find and share love.
Magical realism also adds its rainbow colors to the recipe in Siren Songs. In the six main narrative threads, a young Latina hunts her mother’s killer while her grandfather tries to win the love of the murderer’s grandmother in a case of love at first sight delayed for decades. A young mother named Annie deals with autism, and the difficulties of the food and beverage business, and finds love along the way. Dr. Joseph Jasmine, a down-on-his-luck young professor, moonlights as a waiter and tries to hold his marriage together. All of the stories in the collection follow the lives of people who achieve, amid their daily struggles, the miracles of ordinary love—yes, through the struggles, always the little offices of love—while the Prophet Mudcat sings his siren songs, trying to usher in the Age of Aquarius by returning humankind to the water…
Thanks for stopping by to share your food for thought, Andrew!