Samantha Dunn is addicting. The voluptuous, red-headed journalist --- labeled a combination of Sophia Loren and Dale Evans --- from the sagebrush of the Southwest writes what may be described as the "country" alternative to Candace Bushnell's SEX AND THE CITY. Yet there is a rich, genuine leather to Dunn's narrative that propels and inspires. Dunn has been alluring from her first book, the novel FAILING PARIS, to her first memoir, NOT BY ACCIDENT, when she hilariously and bravely chronicled her recovery from a near-fatal horse-riding accident.
This third offering, FAITH IN CARLOS GOMEZ, takes up where NOT BY ACCIDENT left off. A fully recovered Dunn becomes obsessed with, of all things, salsa music and "the dance." The leap from the stables to the big city dance floors is not so broad considering Dunn's first post-accident conversation with the man who saved her life. Edward Albert Jr. reminds her: "When we were waiting for the paramedics to find us, all of a sudden you asked me why you didn't dance. Do you remember that?"
And the dance begins. On the lookout for the next freelance magazine article, Dunn spots her opportunity when she falls for a South American man. She takes dancing lessons to impress him and to fit in with his crowd, but salsa, she quickly learns, is not square dancing. For the novice, salsa is a struggle. For the committed, salsa is a way of life, a celebration of freedom, a journey toward enlightenment.
Like a new lover, salsa takes over. Dunn writes that it is inside the Conga Room on Wilshire, surrounded outside by the phoniness of Hollywood, watching her partner dance, that: "there seems to hang an acceptance for what we are, this human thing. It comes on me like a religious conversion, the instant of satori talked about in Zen, the line between what came before and all that is possible after, the moment I know I want to inhabit this Los Angeles forever."
While Dunn's highly charged romances with a few Spanish and Latino men are fleeting and unfulfilling (one man even comments: "Women start sleeping with me, and they start thinking they can dance."), it is the dance itself that helps Dunn move into a new stage in her life. The dance is a dramatic though positive addiction; the dance floor is open to self-realization, especially for Dunn, who, in her quest to understand her own origins, learns that it was the dance that flung her mother and her estranged father together for the brief union that brought the author into this world. A passionate invitation to the world Dunn has discovered, FAITH IN CARLOS GOMEZ is another spectacular chapter in the ongoing memoir Dunn weaves of self-discovery and spirituality.
So who is Carlos Gomez? He is an ideal and a mystery, as elusive as a clear definition of the purpose of life. He is a myriad of ideals that make one perfect man. The first Carlos Gomez is an ideal Dunn seeks until she meets the real Carlos Gomez, a C-list actor who foolishly shows little interest in Dunn after their first date. Though he has yet to hold her hand or dance her dance, the perfect Carlos Gomez becomes the salvation for Dunn when one of her closest friends leaves this world of canyons, dances, embraces, sadness and love for that other great mystery we all one day get to solve.
Reviewed by Brandon M. Stickney on January 21, 2011