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INTO THE BEAUTIFUL NORTH by Luis Alberto Urrea

INTO THE BEAUTIFUL NORTH

By Luis Alberto Urrea

Pub Date: May 19th, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-316-02527-0
Publisher: Little, Brown

Three Mexican señoritas cross the border with a gay escort in this good-humored road novel from Urrea (The Hummingbird’s Daughter, 2005, etc.).

The coastal town of Tres Camarones has gone from sleepy to desolate since its men went north to “Los Yunaites,” looking for work. Luckily there are two strong women in town. Middle-aged Irma, a no-nonsense former bowling champion, is running for mayor. Her niece Nayeli, a dark-skinned beauty one year out of high school, is her campaign manager. Nayeli misses her father, one of the migrants, and treasures his one postcard, from Kankakee, Ill. After Irma is elected, Nayeli turns her attention to the crime wave she sees coming—though all we’ve been shown are two out-of-luck drug dealers. Inspired by a screening of The Magnificent Seven at the Cine Pedro Infante, she decides to head north and bring back Mexican cops or soldiers to help her deal with the bandidos. Joining Nayeli in her quest are Yolo and Vampi, her “homegirls,” and Tacho, gay owner of La Mano Caída Taquería and Internet café. The premise is weak, and Urrea keeps everything cartoon simple so he can get his show on the road. The town takes up a collection and gives the girls a big send-off. In Tijuana, Nayeli fights off some bad guys before being befriended by Atómiko, ersatz warrior and authentic trash-picker, who insists on joining their mission. Using tunnels, they cross the border successfully on their second attempt. (This is well-covered ground for Urrea: See his nonfiction border trilogy, beginning with Across the Wire, 1992.) In a silly bit of farce, Tacho is arrested as a suspected al-Qaeda member. Meanwhile, the ladies spend time in San Diego. Their recruiting goes well. Yolo and Vampi find boyfriends. Nayeli, still single, goes back on the road with the liberated Tacho. They are heading for Illinois, her father’s putative home, but the momentum has been lost and the ending is a fizzle.

Minor work from a writer who has done much better.