With a quiet grace and the gravity of those whose lives are permanently on the edge, the characters in Yañez’s debut collection (seven of eight stories published previously) offer an unvarnished look at Chicano life. The types are largely familiar—party animals, workingmen, poor families and kids growing up the hard way—but the honesty with which they appear is redeeming. In a pair of stories, “Rio Bravo” and “Rio Grande,” two drunken incidents yield similar results: Chuco has his lights put out at a bar by a woman with a cue stick when he ogles her female companion, and Joe, across the border for some early morning partying, runs afoul of la migra when he tries to be macho at a demonstration-turned-melée. A mostly retired plumber, in “I&M Plumbing,” copes with helplessness about his wife’s comatose state after a stroke by fixing the broken courtyard fountain in her nursing home. In “Desert Vista,” a boy new to his junior high and his neighborhood deals with the shock of losing his first girlfriend, who dumps him for his only friend while he’s grounded for going out with her. The most sustained and hopeful story, “Amoroza Tires,” charts a course from despair when a stressed, overworked tire repairman, faced with being a single parent to two daughters after his wife suddenly dies, has a revelation in his junkyard that allows him to turn the corner.
Solidly written: tales that are at their best when giving glimmers of transcendence.