Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Brownsville by Oscar Casares

For the most part, Casares is writing about blue-collar guys -- Hispanic guys -- dealing with neighborhoods that are going to hell, wives who inexplicably want to get educated, and the general need to defend oneself against wily Anglo strategies. "Yolanda," a story that concerns a man remembering the time when he was 15 and the neighbor's beautiful wife took refuge from his jealousy in his bedroom, begins with a long passage that goes like this: "I'm talking about more than 20 years ago now. I'm talking about before some drunk spent all afternoon in one of the cantinas on 14th Street, then drove his car straight into the Rivas' front yard and ran over the baby Jesus that was still lying in the manger ... This was before Pete Zuniga was riding his brand new ten-speed from Western Auto and, next to the Friendship Garden, saw a white dude who'd been knifed a couple of dozen times and was floating in the green water of the resaca." Etc. The world goes to hell in a handbasket, paradise is lost: Now the story can begin.

Since Chekhov invented understatement, the great modern short stories have compulsively shown what doesn't happen, the adventure that's aborted. In "Yolanda," the narrator never has sex specifically with his beautiful neighbor. In "Chango," Bony does obey his dad and throw away the monkey head, and in "Charro," Marcelo does give up trying to kill the neighbor's dog. But don't mistake Brownsville for something like Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio. Casares is no facile distributor of small-town epiphanies. As Bony thinks, dropping Chango's head in a canal, "sometimes he listened, but most times he didn't. He was just living. That's the best explanation he could give. Living."

You can find the review here

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