Cover image for Trace elements of random tea parties
Trace elements of random tea parties
Lemus, Felicia Luna, 1975-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, [2003]

Physical Description:
249 pages ; 22 cm
Electronic Access:
Publisher description
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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Leticia Marisol Estrella Torrez, a university honors graduate, moves north to Los Angeles in an attempt to break from the traditional grandmother who raised her and from Weeping Woman, the Mexican folkloric siren who is said to fly through the skies at night to steal troublesome children and who has courted Leticia since her adolescence.

In Los Angeles, Leticia is quickly immersed in the post-punk, post-Queer hipster scene, and after a short-lived affair with the devastating Edith, Leticia meets K, a tall, dark and handsome Old Spice-wearing lovely from Philadelphia. K and Leticia tumble into "candy heaven" bliss, with, to Leticia's amazement, her nana's blessing. As her confidence in herself and her own sexuality grows, Leticia moves toward an identity that K refers to as "shy bookworm sweater femme boy"-- only to have her newfound happiness brutally shattered by Nana's sudden illness and by the disturbing discovery that K is not as trustworthy as she seems.

Vividly wrought, heart-breaking and compelling, Trace Elements of Random Tea Parties is a wonderful debut from Felicia Luna Lemus.

Author Notes

Felicia Luna Lemus graduated summa sum laude from the University of California, Irvine, and received an MFA from the California Institute of the Arts. Trace Elements of Random Tea Parties is her first novel. She lives in Los Angeles.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

The breezy tone of Lemus' gen-X coming-of-age story keeps one flipping pages, even when its gay heroine, Leticia, a film-school grad who grooms dogs in L.A. rather than face the rigors of a professional career, suffers debilitating loss and heartbreak. Family, blood-related or acquired, and the Nana who raised her, in particular, are central to her life, as is also the mythic Weeping Woman, a Hispanic icon whose presence throughout is by turns threatening and comforting. Only when she is at her lowest, grieving dual losses, does Let come to terms with the duality of Weeping Woman and her cultural attachment to the icon--a development parallel to her coming to accept the duality of her Anglo-Hispanic and lesbian identity. Engagingly told in quirky English reflecting Let's speech (e.g., The static crackle jangle of my voice hummed warm reliable ), this story of ultimately strong friendships charms enough to earn its first-time author an early following. --Whitney Scott Copyright 2003 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Lesbian grrrls enjoying the gritty splendors of Los Angeles are the protagonists of this edgy, exuberant debut novel. Leticia Marisol Estrella Torrez is a young woman in her early 20s valiantly trying to find her place in a world of queers living life on their own terms, even if it means breaking with the traditions of her past. Leti's conventional grandmother raised her to be a proper young Mexican-American woman, but Leti is seeking more excitement and freedom. With "shaved head and stomping boots, my adolescent dyke dick hard all the time," Leti crashes the dyke scene while treading more sedately around her grandmother and dreaming of Weeping Woman, a dangerous, seductive figure from Mexican folklore who haunted her childhood. As she careens through the hipster punk world of Southern California, Leti bounces from girlfriend to girlfriend, learning some valuable lessons the hard way. The enticing women she meets are described in fabulous, over-the-top prose: "My girl Edith: smarty-pants Mission District glamour homegrrrl moved down to Los Angeles on her leopard-print motorcycle." And then there is K, "candy heaven," who battles for Leti's heart along with the inscrutable shade of Weeping Woman. The sex is fun, rollicking and a little bit dangerous; the characters are young and guardedly optimistic. Lemus's enthusiasm bubbles over at times, and her flights of poetic fancy are sometimes wobbly ("taking time like starlight in slow motion"; "I got scared by how lemon-lime Otter Pop her toes could get"), but this is an intriguing novel sure to attract readers searching for something urban, lively and a bit different. Agent, Stuart Bernstein. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

On the first page of this debut novel, narrator Leticia says that listening to her stories is "like letting a drunk drive you to a gala event-no indicators given at turns and the windshield wipers are always on." True to her word, Leticia quickly propels us into her turbulent relationship with heartbreaker Edith. Then, with little warning, she flashes back to her childhood in a pink house near the Mexican border, where she was raised by her fierce but tender grandmother, Nana Lupe. Leaving Nana, Leticia assimilates into L.A.'s queer hipster scene, but she is still haunted by the Weeping Woman, one of Mexican folklore's girls gone bad. Upon breaking with Edith, Leticia falls for K, a handsome, soft-spoken artist who paints Aztec women on the sides of vans. Fielding guilt-inducing phone calls from Nana, Leticia and K start to build a life together, but their plans are suddenly interrupted when Nana falls ill. In this vibrant work, Lemus does what few writers can-she makes us forget that it is written at all. Leticia seems to speak out loud, telling a story that loops in circles and captivates with its honesty and life. Lemus is a truly talented storyteller. Highly recommended.-Julia LoFaso, New York (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Trace Elements of Random Tea Parties 1 I tripped over a seam in the trailer's chrome floor. Real quick, before I could do any serious damage, I introduced myself, sat down in the kitchen nook, and did my best to mumble out socially appropriate words between no-blink stares. Fireworks, I watched her lick maple frosting off her fork, all flat-tongue sticking out the way Nana used to slap me upside the head for doing. I was beyond smitten. Story's name was Edith and she got to Amy's trailer half an hour after Nolan and I showed up for the Fourth of July tea party. I might as well tell you right now that this is really about my girl Weeping Woman, Nana, and me. My best boy, Nolan, she says listening to me is like letting a drunk drive you to a gala event--no indicators given at turns and the windshield wipers are always on. Buckle up, doll. I promise I'll try not to tangle your quinceañera dress. We'll get to the ballroom soon enough. My girl Edith: smarty-pants Mission District glamour homegrrrl moved down to Los Angeles on her leopardprint motorcycle. Edith and her amazing sex-radical dancerthighs, she had a homemade guitar string tattoo on her bony wrist and there was usually a healthy touch of orange-red lipstick near the gap between her top front teeth. When she entered a room, sweet thick crisp green lilac perfume sharpened the air. That Independence Day, only a few weeks after I'd moved to Los Angeles, Edith dug into my chest, took my sucker heart in her teeth, dared me to trust her, and promised to walk away. Two days later I got up the nerve to ask Amy for Edith's phone number. I called Edith. We made a coffee date. And when I showed up at the café, she laughed a rather icy laugh and pulled a cigarette from her monogrammed silver case. Taking time like starlight in slow motion, she placed her cigarette in this crazy sleek sterling holder and stared at me, demanding I take her lighter from the table. I wondered if she had one of those cigarette finger rings that Gloria Swanson used to perch to her lips, all talon hands. Sitting across from me was one of the few women in the world who could look fabulous perfect with such an insane gadget. My stalling, my thinking, it was annoying Edie. Once my fumbling finally brought her flame to life, she tilted her head back slightly, still inspecting me, and took a drag. Exhaling blue smoke in my direction, she announced that over the phone she had thought I was the other girl. "Do remind me her name ..." I stuttered, "Oh, Nolan. She's out of town with her boyfriend." A total and complete lie, but I wasn't about to play nice and share my newfound bliss. "I can have her call you when she gets back if you want." She bit down on the holder's dark brown Bakelite mouthpiece and smiled toothy sly. "That won't be necessary." And so began an affair as confused as its first date. By our third date, I knew what made my girl Edithpleased. Saran Wrap. She loved the stuff. Edith would bind my entire body in Saran Wrap before even licking my elbow. Let me tell you, clear microwaveable stretch 'n' cling wrap is not sexy. Especially not when it's the generic purple kind she'd watertight me in. But for Edith I gladly let myself be polyurethane girl from chin to toe. Still, I felt like a desperate and misguided mamasita, all gussied up in kitchen paraphernalia to greet her hunka-hunka at the door and try to cook up some loving. I've read about stuff like that in Good Housekeeping at the dentist's. You know, the path to your sexual happiness is through his digestive tract, that sort of thing. It's strange for two chicana dykes to live Good Housekeeping lust, but the way Edith's eyes shimmered when she'd airtight me with the Saran, I was willing to do anything to see that wild glow. After bouts of all-night hygienic sex and pints of the dairy-free sherbet Edie seemed to have with her at all times, we'd break up and get back together again and then break up but still meet to go to a movie and get our sex on again and then get back together again but be exclusive sexually but not monogamous dating-wise. The entire time my tiny twin mattress was smack-dab next to my apartment's front door. See, Edith was always cold and I got scared by how lemon-lime Otter Pop her toes could get, so I dragged my bed to the wall furnace right next to the triple bolts and doorknob and it stayed there the whole messy six months we tortured each other. Every time when we were near pass-out exhausted, Edith began to talk. My pupils tired, trying to make contact in the pitch-black dark, my body twitching with a need for sleep, she told me her existentialist rationale of why the "we" of she and me could not be. Each night my response was the same, "Yes, Bird." Edith had eyes as endless brown as an orchard oriole's. "Yes, Bird." She was right. It was nearly impossible to "be" when we were just this side of falling asleep. The brink of dreams was the only time she ever talked and she didn't really want answers, so all I had to do was give her my one easy-toremember-even-when-about-to-fall-asleep line and let her continue to get the tension out of her mouth. Soon we'd sleep all tangled up in each other's limbs on my bed barely wide enough for one of us. That girl, she was dreamy. A dreamsicle. Creamy. Dreamy. We only talked when I was asleep. Our relationship existed as I slept beside her. My eyes closed. Calm breathing. She'd talk. We'd wake. Come morning, she'd still be cold but it was usually me doing the sniffling, my left knee bruised though no physical mark was visible. See, I was down on my knee, begging for my Edie. Me, a young gent without a ring to offer her because she already wore it. Edith took the ring but never said yes, so there I knelt, with only myself to offer and what I had to offer was not enough. Night again. My hand cupped the curve of her waist as she once again articulately delineated the impossibility of us, her right side in the thick cushion of my feather bed. "Yes, Bird." Quills jabbing at my shoulder through the pink sheets, I shifted to reach for her. Body in my hands. Inside. Nipple hard against my lips. May I eat you alive? I was spinning pleasant dizzy and then Edith broke up with me "for real this time," she said. She started leaving home-baked goods, muffins and sweet bread and stuff that tended to be undercooked in its middle at my front door, once with instructions written on a schmaltzy Hallmark card to meet her at the dressing rooms at Macy's for a slice of heaven. A week after Macy's, I found a "secret admirer"note drenched in flowery tobacco perfume on my doorstep inviting me to meet at Crystal's bar. An hour after closing time, three in the morning, an entire roll of Saran Wrap and some wax paper too, Edith explained yet again why we couldn't ever be together. I woke the next morning with my Bird by my side and she asked me how I slept. Maybe it was the way the wall heater turned up to high made the air sandy, but for whatever reason, right then my nose started to bleed. No, I take that back, my nose was gushing as furiously as a fire hydrant does when kids break it open with a wrench. I was a sudden mess. I bled onto Edith's wrist as she reached out to touch me. My blood was on her wrist and the Saran Girl, she didn't even flinch. I answered her question. "I slept wonderfully. Thank you very much. And you?" I ran to the bathroom. Returning with a bundle of toilet paper at my left nostril, I smiled under the rough wad turning crimson. She stared at the blood on her right forearm and smiled slow. She slept well also, thanks for asking. I went back to the bathroom and tilted my head over the sink. The marbled cream counter splashed bright red. Letting blood. Purification rite. Drip. Splash. Drip. Splash. Bubbles of oxygen surrounded the drops as they joined the expanding dark puddle. Blood thickening in the sink but fluidly leaving my left nostril. My face lacking its glow, all pasty olive green pale. Drip. Splash. Drip. Splash. I returned to bed and my Bird Edith had flown away. She was like that, Edith was. A wisp of wind would blow in through the window, Edith would disappear, leaving the scent of lilacs to haunt in her wake. Tiring of our game, there came a point when I threatened to move far far away and bail on Edith for good. My Betty Crocker Bird started crying real cruel like people do whenthey want you to take all their pain and then some. She said quietly and between her teeth, "You simply do not up and move without discussing your plans with your girlfriend first." Her eyes glittered mean like I'd seen them do once when she was dancing in her majorette getup and a guy sitting at the catwalk licked his palm and reached out to touch her. The only thing he made contact with was the baton when Edith knocked him out clean cold. I knew to proceed with caution. The plain truth seemed safe enough. "Ex-girlfriend, Edith. Ex-girlfriend. You broke up with me last week, remember?" She stared at me and clenched her jaw until her ears turned chalk white. Lord, I knew to watch my back with that woman then. The topper was how she wanted to hug me and then handed me a fresh loaf of prune nut bread when we said goodbye. Now, look, I know about the poison apple. It isn't just Disney Snow White or Adam and Eve with the little snake in the garden. Forget for a moment that it's probably more historically accurate to say it was a pomegranate, not a Red Delicious, staining Eve's hands a mess. Keep things simple, we're talking Poison Apples. No doubt in my mind that food can be tainted with intent. This is old-school simple truth. I'd learned it from Nana and she learned it from Mamá Estrella, who probably learned it from her mamá. Scared for what poison it might leak onto me, I took the loaf of bread from Edith because I figured if I didn't she'd throw it at me, hard. That and because, though I hate to admit it, I still wanted to get back together with her again, just a little bit. I mean, that gap between her teeth and those sharp minxy eyes and the way we tangled up so sweet when we slept. But I didn't let myself eat the bread. That would have signed the pact in blood. On my kitchen's faux wood counter is wherethe bread sat until I lost enough fear to throw it moldy and uneaten in the trash. That Tuesday trash day I found Edith in the street going through my apartment's garbage bin. Crumpled-up foil balls were piled at her side. She was looking for the bread. Seeing her with her orange lipstick and her obsessed hunt, I forgot that I'd promised myself never to talk to her again. "Hello, my sweet chocolate pie." Edith dropped the torn-open black garbage bag held in her yellow dish-glove hands and leaned against the bin poised and scolding as if I'd interrupted the rising sun. "Chocolate pie, Leticia? Why pie? And chocolate pie at that? Tell me, just what the hell is chocolate pie supposed to signify, Leticia Marisol Estrella Torrez?" Nobody but family scolding when I was a kid ever pulled such a sneaky trick as throwing down my full name. The game was in motion. "You rather lemon meringue or minced meat? Eh, Ms. Inmaculada Edith Contreras? Maybe key lime, or caramelo? Not apple, I can tell you that much. No, I couldn't call you apple pie even if you begged like a good little pie should." Edith tore off her rubber duck yellow gloves and threw them to the ground. She wiped angry tears from her high Dolores del Rio cheekbones, smoothed spit curls at her temples into place, and stomped her vinyl go-go boots self up to the apartment I had rented in what I was beginning to realize was a futile attempt to outrun my Weeping Woman and Nana. Copyright 2003 by Felicia Luna Lemus Excerpted from Trace Elements of Random Tea Parties: A Novel by Felicia Luna Lemus All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.