A slight first novel by the author of last year's story collection The Magic of Blood, this details a few months in the lives of regular-guy Mexican-Americans firmly fixed in the here and now. Mickey, a Chicano rambler, comes out of nowhere special and is going nowhere else special when he checks into the El Paso YMCA; Gilb establishes him as an almost mythical working-class vato who can live on the nourishment of his half-fabricated past. Of his future, all Mickey knows is that he's expecting a check for some services rendered. As he gets a few odd jobs for drink money and begins to know his neighbors (a quirky bunch of characters, freakishly drawn), Mickey fights a psychological battle to keep his distance and his sense of self. His cronies include mild-mannered Sarge, a loner fixated on Big Macs and a private porn collection; silent Butch, whose few words come out like oracular utterances; Omar, who has tequila frenzies and an obsession with lost love; Blind Jimmy, a guitar-playing, emaciated street person who wears pink chiffon dresses and wishes he were an eight-year-old girl; Lola, the seen-it-all waitress, whose heart is eagerly sought after. Mickey's routine is thoroughly detailed, so much so that a ping-pong game gets five pages, a pool game ten. The sentences lunge after the Hemingwayesque satori: ``Mickey was simple in this: he wanted one truth that was, at least, true.'' Toward the end Gilb works up some plot tension concerning the whereabouts of the mysterious check, but it's too little, too late, drowned in a sea of Bukowskian, nothing-matters existentialism. The genuine Chicano dialogue buzzing over the lazy rec-room activities provides the draw here, but Gilb's overriding earnestness seems at odds with his characters' F.T.W. attitude.
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