UNFAMOUS MEN by Jeff Gomez

UNFAMOUS MEN

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Two Mexican American workers pursue dreams of independence in this reimagining of John Steinbeck’s classic 1937 novella Of Mice and Men.

On a warm spring day, two men arrive at a lemon ranch in Saticoy, California. Juanito Sanchez is much gentler than his huge stature might indicate. After the death of his aunt, who raised him, he’s traveling to Los Angeles, where his uncle runs a small grocery store. Because he’s intellectually disabled, his aunt entrusted his inheritance money to his friend and travel companion, Tomás Delgado. Tomás is sharp-witted and perceptive, but he’s unable to resist a gamble. He insists to Juanito that their lives will be better soon, as Juanito’s uncle has promised them both employment and shelter. Juanito yearns for solitude and stability, and Tomás looks forward to the freedoms that such a job would give him. To that end, he reassures Juanito that they’ll head to LA as soon as they earn enough wages as migrant fruit pickers. However, during their first week in the lemon groves, Tomás takes an interest in Celedonia, the lovely wife of the boss’s son, which creates tensions that lead to tragedy. Gomez (Our Noise, 1995, etc.) excels at creating a sense of impending catastrophe as Tomás and Juanito’s situation worsens. Tomás is a complicated and engaging character who resents the limitations imposed on him by white society and who’s haunted by his wartime naval experience. The narrative parallels to Of Mice and Men are handled well, as the author uses many motifs from the original work to very different ends. The story exposes the plight of Mexican American workers of the era through conversations that address the abysmal conditions on migrant farms and the injustices of a mass deportation effort. In this way, Gomez gives a classic tale new life and sheds light on an underacknowledged chapter of American history.

A convincing fictional exploration of human optimism and weakness.

Pub Date: Nov. 12th, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-73311-280-2
Page count: 154pp
Publisher: Harrow Books
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 2019