RETABLOS by Octavio Solis


Stories from a Life Lived Along the Border
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In this coming-of-age memoir, a playwright illuminates the culture of the El Paso border as he perceived it when he was young.

Award-winning playwright Solis explains the genesis of his debut book before proceeding to vignettes of his formative years in a border city. First, the title, as he explains it, refers to “a devotional painting…at once visual and literary, [which] records the transgression, the divine mediation and the offering of thanks in a single frame, thus forming a kind of flash-fiction account of that person’s electrifying, life-altering event.” Thus we have a series of self-contained vignettes, though there are some connecting threads—e.g., family, the mysterious outsider boy known only as “Demon,” and the equally mysterious “Runner,” who may be running to something or from something but never stops to explain himself. Solis describes the stories as “disconnected (and yet thoroughly interconnected, noting that, through memory and reconstruction, “I’m trying to figure myself out. I’m coming to terms with who I am by looking back at what I was.” Inevitably, he deals with identity, as a boy born in America to Mexican parents, with sexual awakening, and with the first stirrings of his literary ambitions. The pieces follow a chronological progression, though with a recognition that border issues and tensions are timeless, that “there will always be those who want to come across and those who want to keep them where they are.” By the time he made his first return from college, he viewed his city, family, and origins with a totally fresh perspective. Within these pieces, he aims for a truth that he admits has been filtered through memory and shaped by selection: “I suppose I am using the poetic voice to convey the authentic.”

An intriguing work that transcends category, drawing from facts but reading like fiction.

Pub Date: Oct. 16th, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-87286-786-4
Page count: 176pp
Publisher: City Lights
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2018


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