Assimilation into American culture and abrasive family dynamics are the subjects of the 11 finely crafted stories gathered in this striking debut collection. López's characters are (mostly southwestern) Latinos attempting to fit in wherever they're denied entry: the overweight, irascible adolescent narrator of "Sophia"—a profane, female Holden Caulfield; the disabled protagonist of "Frostbite," a distracted grandfather whose extended families' unending misfortunes comprise a carnival of maladjustment and underachievement; and the title story's unbeauteous narrator, who suffers through such inglorious ordeals as a pet cat's hospitalization for asthma and a perilous motorcycle ride with an affable "rapist and pillager." Several stories focus on the culture-shocked experiences of Elaine and Aaron Singer, a mixed couple who find themselves out of place wherever they go, and several others develop realistically and plaintively from such unique premises as a widower's unusual strategy for summoning his former wife's spirit ("The Tatting Man") and the "punishment" awaiting an unlucky 13-year-old who accidentally kills an elderly neighbor with his new deer rifle ("To Control a Rabid Rodent"). López is an original, and this fine collection, which won its publisher's inaugural Miguel Marmol Prize for fiction, is a thoroughgoing delight.
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