Linked tales of exile and the quest to belong in an unwelcoming world.
“Heart attack last night. I thought you’d be happy. Karma.” So says a Japanese American friend to Merrill Lynch analyst Ricky Quintana, a habitué of big city coffee shops and gourmet groceries, remarking with satisfaction on the death of a right-wing TV blowhard “who hates immigrants.” Ricky, born, like author Troncoso (The Nature of Truth, 2014, etc.), in the border city of El Paso, Texas, gets no particular satisfaction from the talking head’s demise, despite his own surreptitious role in it; as with the Bruegel portrait of the fall of Icarus, nothing in his world is rattled, and “nothing seemed out of place.” So it is with David, who, Gatsby-like, materializes in New England, leaving his father, “a crazed Mexican Vulcan, forging the meat of labor into capital,” and mother behind in El Paso to become a rare brown face at Harvard—and then a man who thereafter had to throw himself against one obstacle or another until, as he notes, quietly, “I got old, and that made everything better, including me.” Carlos, the “peculiar” son of the title, is contemplative, aware of the differences between him and the people around him. So is Maribel, who cleans motel rooms while studying algebra, aspiring to a better life; for all her efforts, she finds nothing good in the “piss-colored light” of Jamaica, Queens. Troncoso’s New York is a place of splendid possibilities and sad endings, a place where the reviled Other, far from home, searches for a safe place to land—the “Library Island” of the dark story by that name, a “sacred haven” where one is safe to read and think, at least until the “Outer World” bursts in; the wintry streets of Manhattan; even the cemetery.
Troncoso’s sharp-edged stories speak to the difficult lives of those who, as he writes, are born behind in a race they must run all the same.