Brownsville: Nothing Short of Breathtaking
J. Gordon
3/10/2003 6:51:13 PM

Author Oscar Casares has that rare literary gift of being able to clearly dissect the complexities of emotion packed beneath humanities’ thin, fragile skin, and display them with humor, faith, tradition, and maybe a little bit of magic. From start to finish, his debut collection of stories, Brownsville [Back Bay Books/Little, Brown] is nothing short of breathtaking.

Casares’ characters, Latinos of all ages at the Texas border town of Brownsville, each tell their own story, every chapter fleshing out the landscape and culture in greater detail. The language is pared down and real, voices are authentic, and nary a word is wasted—every line feels like it packs a clean and direct punch. Some of Brownsville’s characters will break your heart, like the old man in “Domingo,” who has lived a lifetime of hard work—working on everything but his own soul. The opening tale, “Mr. Z,” is about 11-year-old Diego, a boy who, in order to make his father proud, learns to swallow down the humiliation he feels from the mean-spirited owner of a fireworks tent, while Diego carries out a secret revenge.

Other characters are laugh-out-loud funny, like Bony, an ambitionless 31-year-old still living at home. Bony doesn’t work at all, feels no shame in it, even when a monkey’s head shows up in the yard and he’s forced to contemplate his life in the strangely amusing story, “Chango.” And then there’s “RG,” a delightfully odd look at a man obsessed with having his hammer returned from the neighbor who borrowed it years before.

Once you make the trek into the first couple pages of Brownsville there’s no turning back. Most likely, you’ll read it straight through, pausing only to take a deep breath and think, or maybe shed a tear. While each story is a little window into the odd and endearing facts of a Tejan life, Brownsville is also so much more. Brownsville is a study of the spirit, the forgiveness of faults, a celebration of culture, and a pure, gorgeous, overflowing love for humanity. Expect great things from this new author. Un trabajo sobresaliente del arte!


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