In this debut novel, Kiefer portrays the struggles of a multicultural Texas family.
Corrado emigrates from Sicily to the United States in 1905, eventually establishing himself as a migrant worker and marrying a Mexican woman, Violeta. The young couple’s life in Texas is difficult, and Violeta bears an astonishing 18 children in 22 years, who eventually provide help with field work. One of the daughters, Fabia, later gets pregnant by a miserable, abusive man, with whom she goes on to have 11 more kids. The eldest girl in that family, Lucia, goes on to marry a white man, Rand, under the mistaken assumption that white men don’t beat their wives. Together, they have three children, and Rand regularly sexually abuses the middle child, Mateo. When Lucia discovers this, she takes her kids, leaves her husband, and embarks on the difficult life of a poor, single working mother. She meets a man named Gerald at the bar where she works, falls in love, and marries him. But financial hardship continues, followed by tragedy; in need of money and stability, Lucia later marries Donald, who’s in the U.S. Air Force, and this union lasts. Here, the novel takes a curious spin: the narrative leaps back in time, recounting the same events from Lucia’s eldest son Julian’s point of view, followed by Mateo’s. While creative, this tactic drags things down, as one must read slight variations of the same story three times. That said, Mateo’s journey does extend the time frame of the previous sections, showing his evolution from troubled teenager to successful lawyer. Even with Mateo’s clear arc, though, the novel may struggle to engage readers, due to its underdeveloped, clunky prose: “While he, Mike, that is, was definitely heterosexual, even if he wasn’t, there was no way he would allow himself to be seduced by a teenage boy.” When the author lets dramatic moments breathe, however, the book finds sturdy ground; for example, a scene in which Rand ruthlessly hunts young Mateo is absolutely chilling. Unfortunately, the book is littered with anecdotes that have little bearing on the overall narrative, including minor robberies and consequence-free one-night stands.
An uneven birds-eye view of one family’s journey.