A daughter recounts a legacy of violence in this debut memoir.
One October, Jose Venegas prepared for his annual trip from Chicago, where he lived with his wife and children, to his native Mexico. As usual, he took clothing and household goods for his parents and extended family. But this time, he also bought a bulletproof vest and packed into steel trunks all the guns he had stored in the house. “Your father is never coming back,” his wife announced a few days later. For nearly 15 years, Venegas had no contact with her father, who, she learned, had killed her uncle and attempted to murder many other men. He was, she believed, violent, volatile and a coward for leaving his family unprotected. Furious with her father, she felt alienated from her mother, an evangelical Christian with no aspirations for her daughter’s future. When Venegas said she wanted to go to college, her mother told her to apply instead for a job as a cashier at Kmart: “You could drop out of school, make some good money,” she said. The author, however, followed her dream, enrolling as an economics major at the University of Illinois and studying abroad in Spain. Haunted by a past she did not understand, she gave in to her boyfriend’s urging to reconnect with her father. That reunion led to regular visits, during which she discovered how deeply imbedded he was in a culture of violence and retribution. At age 10, he blew the head off a rattlesnake with his father’s rifle; soon after, his mother pressed a knife into his hands, urging him to retaliate against a bully; two years later, she gave him a gun to use for revenge. Killing, he learned, was expected of a man, and drinking exacerbated his violence.
As Venegas portrays him in this stark, tender narrative, Jose is an extremely complicated man—longing for his children’s love, beset by regrets and seared by brutality.