This exceptional first novel from Casares (Stories: Brownsville, 2002) chronicles a Mexican-American road trip.
In a Texas border town, two estranged brothers live mere miles apart. Don Fidencio, in his 90s, is the quintessential cantankerous old man. His grumbling provides comic relief from the pain he experiences at Amigoland, the nursing home in which his daughter and son-in-law (“The Son of a Bitch”) placed him and from which he is continually plotting his escape. Fidencio’s younger brother, Don Celestino, fills his empty retirement with a love affair with Socorro, a woman more than 30 years his junior. When the brothers reunite, Fidencio commands his younger sibling to take him on a road trip to the family’s old estate in Mexico. In an attempt to get closer to Celestino and reunite his broken family, Socorro convinces him to fulfill his brother’s wish. She comes along too, and the motley crew sets off across the border. Casares has a talent for dialogue. The characters are neither good nor bad, but refreshingly real, and sudden shifts in perspective allow readers to empathize with each one. His portrait of the endearing, complicated love between Celestino and Socorro offers a welcome and uncommon exploration of passion in old age. Simultaneously, pitch-perfect prose charts the brothers’ evolving, improving relationship. Casares allows his characters to embrace what they can become without forcing them to lose who they are. The book grapples with what it means to live on the border. Language, folklore and food all reinforce the paradox that the dividing line between Mexico and America is both real and fluid. In a dusty brown town, the journey of these three ordinary people provides a splash of color and spirit.
Knowing, touching and true.