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by Daniel A. Olivas

Pub Date: Sept. 19th, 2017
ISBN: 978-0-8165-3562-0
Publisher: Univ. of Arizona

Vignettes of Latino life in Los Angeles, reminiscent of Michael Tolkin’s The Player in its sardonic range.

It’s probably safe to guess that most teenage girls do not receive each evening, as if in a daily affirmation, the instruction, “Mija, when you kill a man, you must find the weak spot that all men have and make him suffer pain as he has never suffered before.” Mama’s advice, happily, isn’t often followed literally in these sketches, but in most of them the men are revealed to be riddled with weak spots indeed, measuring out their lives—as do the women, for that matter—in coffee spoons, or at least in visits to Starbucks. Coffee, indeed, seems to have healing powers in the opening story, "Good Things Happen at Tina's Café." At least Yuban does, the stuff that the polydactylic protagonist Félix quaffs in the diner owned by the alluring Tina, who, by the end of the story, may or may not exist, just as Félix’s ordinary reality may or may not be a decaffeinated illusion. Enigmatic and suggestive, the story is an exercise in a gritty form of magical realism, complete with funicular railway. The lead in Olivas’ (The Book of Want, 2011, etc.) title story is less likable, deservedly proud of his accomplishments—“Those punks had no pinche empire, that’s for goddamn sure”—and a complicated enough character to stand up to a little Rashomon-ish examination through the eyes of several people who know him, in interviews conducted on behalf of a writer who just happens to be named Olivas (“a real pendejo”). Though often playful, the collection ends on a grim note as a family is torn apart by the “great wall” that a certain president touts, in an endless audio loop over a detention center loudspeaker system, as one that Mexico will pay for, “and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me.”

Assured and perceptive, offering a view of another Southland from Chandler’s and Didion’s.