A SUMMER LIFE by Gary Soto


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A 126-page collection of rich, lyrical essays on growing up poor in Fresno, Cal., during the 1950's and 60's--altogether, less memorable for their content than their wistful tone and evocative imagery. As the title indicates, these vignettes by Soto, a leading Chicano poet, are set in the summers of his youth. While some of his ""memoirs"" obviously contain invention (they start at age four and continue into his teens), the details he uses to flesh them out--the sights, sounds, smells; the objects, gadgets, and discarded trinkets that fascinate a child--re-create a realistic, immediate world. Certain images recur throughout Soto's days of play and discovery: red ants; dirty sneakers; bottle caps, often pressed into heat-softened asphalt; fruit--usually juicy and dripping down his chin and arm. His family is incidental to his play and neighborhood wanderings. His mother goes ""out"" frequently and is most often found in the kitchen. His uncle, home from the military, has a tattoo and owns a plaster Buddha that young Soto drags outdoors to play with. There is a barely recalled stepfather who drinks and changes channels when the Beatles appear on Ed Sullivan. His two brothers and little sister are at times coconspirators, at other times combatants in his adventures and childish mishaps. Once in a while, Soto's descriptions are jarring: ""The sun, yellow as a tooth. . ."" But more often, he writes with charming sensitivity: ""We walked for a good mile, each of us dragging a sled of loneliness""; or, ""After the rain, puddles marked the world's dents."" Plotless mood pieces--sometimes requiring patience but frequently rewarding with rich nuggets and gentle surprises.

Pub Date: July 2nd, 1990
ISBN: 0440210240
Publisher: Univ. Press of New England