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Book review: “Time of Triumph” February 19, 2008

Posted by Ron Warnick in Books, People.
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“Time of Triumph” helps answer one question — what happened to Ron Chavez when his famed Club Cafe in Santa Rosa, N.M., closed?

Club Cafe was best-known for its smiling “Fat Man” logo on Route 66 billboards in New Mexico. Chavez’s storytelling was nearly as praised as his down-home New Mexican cooking, and his restaurant was cited in numerous Route 66 books.

But the Club Cafe closed in 1991. By Chavez’s own words in his new book: “The Golden Arches came into town and busted me and I landed back on the streets of my youth.”

Chavez eventually moved to the northern New Mexico town of Taos and became a well-regarded poet with his bilingual readings. “Time of Triumph” (246 pages, BookSurge Publishing, $15.99) is his first collection of poems and short stories at the age of 71.

Chavez is known as the “Route 66 Storyteller,” but “Time of Triumph” doesn’t contain much Route 66 content. The Mother Road and Club Cafe are mentioned in “Back Side of Glory” — the story about a former POW who became a drunkard — but it’s peripheral.

And Chavez’s stories are uneven. The tale of a local jailer in “Life at the Hilton,” which provides a likely look at Chavez’s life after the Club Cafe shut down, proves to be a gritty, profane and compelling. But “Man of Honor,” a yarn about the first Santa Rosa soldier killed in Vietnam, is less involving and believable.

More successful is Chavez’s poetry. He writes that these pieces are “born out of the anguish of defeat and depths of personal pain.” His poems also are imbued with wistfulness, gratitude, romance and hard-won wisdom. His writings also are shot through his native culture; many poems are printed in Spanish as well as English.

Those looking for a bunch of Route 66 stories may be disappointed with “Time of Triumph.” But those who like soul-bearing writing may be taken with Chavez’s work.

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