THE BIG BEAR by Ron Ruiz


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A notably different courtroom drama in which a young Mexican-American battles overwhelming odds to become a lawyer, then a good lawyer, and finally—sadly enough—a successful one.

Gabriel Garcia hated the San Joaquin Valley grape farm where he was born and raised, hated everything about it, including the fact of his Mexican-American heritage, which he construed to mean he was second-rate. First-rate was white: rich, powerful, and privileged. Gabby’s abiding fear was that he might get trapped, sucked into a vortex of demoralizing poverty and despair, and he vowed resistance. Driving himself relentlessly, he finished college and law school—taking eleven years to do it—and spent the next five building a practice, his clients drawn exclusively from the hardscrabble villages around San Jose. And now, though he works far too much—routinely twelve hours a day, six days a week—he feels good about himself. He’s helping people, his people, and becoming proficient at it. Suddenly, however, life takes an unexpected turn. He falls in love with Rebecca Williams, a beautiful, upper-class white woman, and, to his enormous surprise, she reciprocates. They marry, but it doesn’t go well—Gabby’s insecurities and unwarranted jealousy at fault. For him, separation results in corroding anger, and its effect is to shift the thrust of his ambition from selfless to selfish. He takes a case he knows he shouldn’t, a white man’s case, and he takes it because he yearns for a success that will somehow punish Rebecca. It’s a high-profile affair: a prominent doctor is accused of murdering his wife. As Gabby fights it he also fights himself, suffering immeasurably throughout, and in the process learns bitter lessons only peripherally connected with the verdict.

Ruiz, a practicing California DA, creates a warts-and-all protagonist for his third outing (Giuseppe Rocco, 1998, etc.): you may not always like Gabby, but you'll probably find yourself rooting for him.

Pub Date: March 31st, 2003
ISBN: 1-55885-393-6
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Arte Público
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2003