Reissue, in one volume, of the stories that inaugurated Hinojosa’s (Creative Writing/Univ. of Texas) long-running Klail City Death Trip series.
Set along the Mexican border in South Texas, the series has a title that echoes Michael Lesy’s book about faraway Wisconsin, while its epic ambition seems to owe to William Faulkner, Gabriel García Márquez and Edgar Lee Masters in roughly equal measure. As Arte Público publisher Nicolás Kanellos notes in his too-brief but illuminating foreword, it is one of the foundational texts of Chicano literature, curious publishing history and all: Estampas del valle appeared in Spanish in 1972 and was published in English, much revised and reorganized, as The Valley in 1983, even as the series was moving forward, conjuring Hinojosa’s fictitious Belken County into being. In these and the other 20-odd installments of what Kanellos shorthands as KCDT, Hinojosa limns a realistic—and, unusually for its time, not magical realistic, either—world of imagined small towns such as Relámpago (lightning) and Jonesville-on-the-Rio, where everyone knows everyone else. That familiarity, of course, doesn’t prevent bad things from happening: Confesses one young man, “I killed Ernesto Tamez, and I did it right there at the Aquí me quedo....He’s laid out there somewhere.” So speaks Balde Cordero from the workhouse, owning up to his part in a crime of passion that, really, is very ordinary in this place, where friends love and kill each other. Hinojosa’s text is full of the casual wisdom that people in small towns will offer (“God’s truth it is when it’s claimed that nicknames are powerful friends or enemies; I mean, they’ll sweep names and characters away”), and it is as revealing of the odd politics of rural Texas life as John Nichols’ later, and much more lighthearted, Milagro Beanfield War was on northern New Mexico.
Acquiring full force in the context of the story cycle to which they gave birth, Estampas del Valle/The Valley are essential texts for students of borderlands and Mexican-American literature.