Poignant, heartfelt memoir of a gay Latino immigrant’s coming-of-age, played out against a relentless backdrop of abuse and neglect.
Poet, novelist and children’s author González (So Often the Pitcher Goes to Water Until It Breaks, 1999, etc.) digs deep to reveal a tortured childhood as the son of poverty-stricken, functionally illiterate Mexican farmworkers. The memoir opens in 1990, when the author was barely 20 and in flight from an abusive relationship with an unnamed older lover. González trekked to Indio, Calif., to reunite with his distant father for a restless, uncomfortable, three-day bus ride into Mexico, where he was raised. The narrative then turns to González’s youth. His father was a selfish alcoholic, his mother sickly, his grandfather increasingly menacing. Scores of relatives also inhabited their half-finished house. The family was uprooted when González’s 31-year-old mother succumbed to heart disease; home became the crime-ridden “government-subsidized cinderblock apartment of the Fred Young Farm Labor Camp.” Her barely teenaged son had furtive sex with older men he met in the grape fields where he worked during his summer vacations. First-love and weight issues soon complicated his life even further. The author delineates his youthful self as strong and resilient, focusing on his aspirations to become a school teacher in spite of a father who was “too busy” to come to his high-school graduation and who tried to dissuade González from taking advantage of a scholarship to attend college in Riverside, Calif. After describing his uneasy arrival at Riverside, the narrative returns to 1990: Oblivious father and resentful son separated soon after their arrival in Michoacán; suffocated by all the painful memories, González reluctantly returned to his abusive lover for a final round of broken bones and bruises.
Too bad the author failed to include an epilogue about his present-day successes (he’s a Guggenheim Fellowship recipient and an associate professor of English at the Univ. of Illinois)—it could have transformed this cheerless tale into something inspirational.