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BATTLES IN THE DESERT

A fresh translation of this classic of 20th-century Mexican literature, ready for a new audience to savor.

This coming-of-age story, originally published in 1981, explores the intensity of childhood passion even as it mourns the passing of a version of Mexico City subsumed by the tidal wave of consumer-based globalism.

Carlos is a child of the Mexican middle class, which is made up of “typical wannabes,” according to his brutish older brother, Héctor. During the post–World War II presidency of Miguel Alemán, Carlos’ Mexico City is poised on the dividing line between a way of living informed by traditional culture and the wave of industrialization, importation, and consumer marketing designed to “whiten the taste of the Mexicans.” Carlos’ father owns a failing soap factory which is being outcompeted by North American detergent brands, and his mother “despises anyone who [isn’t] from Jalisco,” which would seem to include Carlos and his younger sister, the only two of her five children not born in Guadalajara. Carlos takes a more egalitarian view of the national and ethnic identities of the people who surround him—whether it is his classmate Jim, who was born in San Francisco and speaks both English and Spanish with no identifying accent; Toru, who is Japanese and spent his early childhood in an internment camp; or scholarship student Rosales, who is from one of the worst slums in the city, Carlos believes that “nobody chooses how they’re born” and manages to float fairly seamlessly among the playground tribes. When Carlos meets Jim’s mother—the beautiful Mariana, rumored mistress of a high-ranking member of Alemán’s inner circle—his aimless drifting develops sudden purpose. In spite of his young age, Carlos falls deeply in love with Mariana. As his passion becomes obsessive, Carlos goes out of his way to gather information about Mariana from her son, to find excuses to stop by Jim’s house after school, and, finally, to sneak out of school in order to confess his love. The subsequent overreaction to Carlos’ actions by his parents, school officials, psychologists, and friends turns the order of Carlos’ life upside down, leading in a circuitous way to the family’s eventual departure from Mexico to a new life as immigrants in America. A tender and unequivocal exploration of the strength of a child’s passion, Pacheco’s work treats the passing of the Mexico City of his youth with the same wistful longing as he does Carlos' love, which, being secret and silent, is the most hopeless type of love and thus also the saddest.

A fresh translation of this classic of 20th-century Mexican literature, ready for a new audience to savor.  

Pub Date: June 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-8112-3095-7

Page Count: 54

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2021

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THE GOD OF THE WOODS

"Don't go into the woods" takes on unsettling new meaning in Moore's blend of domestic drama and crime novel.

Many years after her older brother, Bear, went missing, Barbara Van Laar vanishes from the same sleepaway camp he did, leading to dark, bitter truths about her wealthy family.

One morning in 1975 at Camp Emerson—an Adirondacks summer camp owned by her family—it's discovered that 13-year-old Barbara isn't in her bed. A problem case whose unhappily married parents disdain her goth appearance and "stormy" temperament, Barbara is secretly known by one bunkmate to have slipped out every night after bedtime. But no one has a clue where's she permanently disappeared to, firing speculation that she was taken by a local serial killer known as Slitter. As Jacob Sluiter, he was convicted of 11 murders in the 1960s and recently broke out of prison. He's the one, people say, who should have been prosecuted for Bear's abduction, not a gardener who was framed. Leave it to the young and unproven assistant investigator, Judy Luptack, to press forward in uncovering the truth, unswayed by her bullying father and male colleagues who question whether women are "cut out for this work." An unsavory group portrait of the Van Laars emerges in which the children's father cruelly abuses their submissive mother, who is so traumatized by the loss of Bear—and the possible role she played in it—that she has no love left for her daughter. Picking up on the themes of families in search of themselves she explored in Long Bright River (2020), Moore draws sympathy to characters who have been subjected to spousal, parental, psychological, and physical abuse. As rich in background detail and secondary mysteries as it is, this ever-expansive, intricate, emotionally engaging novel never seems overplotted. Every piece falls skillfully into place and every character, major and minor, leaves an imprint.

"Don't go into the woods" takes on unsettling new meaning in Moore's blend of domestic drama and crime novel.

Pub Date: July 2, 2024

ISBN: 9780593418918

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2024

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SANDWICH

A moving, hilarious reminder that parenthood, just like life, means constant change.

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During an annual beach vacation, a mother confronts her past and learns to move forward.

Her family’s annual trip to Cape Cod is always the highlight of Rocky’s year—even more so now that her children are grown and she cherishes what little time she gets with them. Rocky is deep in the throes of menopause, picking fights with her loving husband and occasionally throwing off her clothes during a hot flash, much to the chagrin of her family. She’s also dealing with her parents, who are crammed into the same small summer house (with one toilet that only occasionally spews sewage everywhere) and who are aging at an alarmingly rapid rate. Rocky’s life is full of change, from her body to her identity—she frequently flashes back to the vacations of years past, when her children were tiny. Although she’s grateful for the family she has, she mourns what she’s lost. Newman (author of the equally wonderful We All Want Impossible Things, 2022) imbues Rocky’s internal struggles with importance and gravity, all while showcasing her very funny observations about life and parenting. She examines motherhood with a raw honesty that few others manage—she remembers the hard parts, the depths of despair, panic, and anxiety that can happen with young children, and she also recounts the joy in a way that never feels saccharine. She has a gift for exploring the real, messy contradictions in human emotions. As Rocky puts it, “This may be the only reason we were put on this earth. To say to each other, I know how you feel.”

A moving, hilarious reminder that parenthood, just like life, means constant change.

Pub Date: June 18, 2024

ISBN: 9780063345164

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 23, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2024

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