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by Deborah Clearman

Pub Date: March 15th, 2017
ISBN: 978-0-9968384-5-0
Publisher: Rain Mountain Press

A collection of stories about hard choices borne of desperation and the stark delineations between classes in both Guatemala and the United States.

Clearman (Todos Santos, 2010, etc.) opens her collection with the novella A Cup of Tears, an ethically fraught adoption tale, alternating among the perspectives of 15-year-old Concepción, wet nurse to a pair of twins; Prudencia, a baby contractor who acquires the toddlers; Doña Merced, who facilitates their adoption; and two American adoptive parents. For all, “this was a fight to survive,” Clearman writes. Concepción wants to escape north. Prudencia’s call to betray her own ethics comes as much from being “up against the knife” of the bill for her mother’s impending surgery as it does from carrying a metaphorical knife against her father and the shame of incest. Love, for Clearman’s characters, is dangerous and often wrong; in A Cup of Tears, particularly, babies are paradoxically the detritus of forbidden union and the emblems of audacious hope. Stories like “The Race” as well as stories like “Saints and Sinners” illustrate the polarity of life in Guatemala and the U.S. Guatemala represents tradition but also poverty and corruption. In America lies opportunity but instability. When Fausto Mendoza Ramirez returns home to prove himself in a grueling race, he must confront his father and his family legacy. Though characters in Clearman’s stories are genetically related, the collection is inconsistent in its ethical weight. The author offers the same photographic eye and acute vision of Guatemalan culture throughout, but the novella’s arresting implications are not echoed in stories like “Turista” or “Fathers and Sons.” Though these repeat the refrain that “the North was taking all our sons,” there is less at stake for these stories' characters, and the stories suffer for lack of the characteristic unease that drives A Cup of Tears.

Stories of strength and ethical quandary, but inconsistently rendered.