Ten tales of broken families and fearless youths against the backdrop of Arizona’s searing heat and saguaros.
Alvarado’s stories touch not only on the clash of Hispanic and Anglo cultures, but on the places where they connect, however haphazardly. In “Just Family,” Tony has just been released from a five-year stint in prison. He’s trouble, and his family doesn’t expect much from him but more prison or an early end, but they play along at normality, hoping the tethers of family will save him. “Bastille Day” and “Limbo” bookend the collection as sad portraits of inevitability—both present young Mexican-American men trapped by circumstances rougher than they are, forced to live up to a kind of machismo that becomes their undoing. “In Box Canyon” is an affecting tale of two junkies, Lori and Tomás, trying to stay clean, but loving the drug just a bit more than they love each other. “Emily’s Exit” and “Can You Hear Me?” are the highlights here, examining the sometimes contentious relationship of siblings. Emily disappears, walks into the desert on some kind of trek of spiritual martyrdom, leaving behind a grieving mother who builds a Zen garden, and an irritated, slightly relieved younger sister. Found nearly dead in a Mexican desert, Emily is brought to the house of a reclusive woman to pray over the bodies of her dead children, two girls encased in glass. “Can You Hear Me?” finds artist Isabel in Italy, avoiding the phone calls of her anxious mother and possibly schizophrenic brother Van. While Isabel tries to soak up the local color, Van and his loser friends plot a scheme to import heroin from Afghanistan. If only Van could turn off the voices in his head, he might strike it rich. Alvarado’s stories are well-crafted, but lack the emotional power to elevate them to memorable stand-outs.
A couple of gems in a so-so debut collection.