Expatriate southwesterner Gonzalez (Literature/Univ. of Minnesota) returns to his stomping grounds to expatiate with passion and wisdom on rattlers, nuclear weapons, poverty, Chicano culture, cave drawings, the Alamo, and scorpions.
Each of these 15 eclectic essays (some previously published) deals in some fashion with the author’s beloved native turf, especially the far-west tip of Texas and New Mexico close to his boyhood home of El Paso. Better known as a poet (Turtle Pictures, 2000, etc.), Gonzalez begins with a stunning description of a drive into New Mexico in a pounding rainstorm (high wind, hail, the works) and ends with a meditation on scorpions occasioned by his mother’s battle to keep the critters out of her home (duct tape triumphs!). In between, he explores a variety of topics in a variety of formats, though his principal vehicle is the adroitly employed present tense and his principal concerns are grinding poverty, the use of the desert for dumping toxic and nuclear waste, the effects of NAFTA, and the “history” of the area viewed through the lenses of the conquerors. In several pieces, Gonzalez tells of visits to regional museums, recording with devastating clarity the misrepresentations and misapprehensions of those who fashioned the displays. He enjoys the role of the anonymous observer, nowhere more noticeably than in a long essay about a van tour to the site of a 1916 raid by Pancho Villa. Columbus, New Mexico, is a miserably impoverished town, but it has a Villa museum whose displays, asserts Gonzalez, reveal deep biases and even deeper ignorance. At various times, the author finds himself afraid of his own turf: afraid of desert trails; of chained dogs in Chamberino, New Mexico; of surly teens and edgy illegals. And at times he cannot resist telling us what his details have already shown us, but more often he points our heads and makes us notice.
Powerful, poetic, troubling.