By Daniel Olivas
Brides and Sinners in El Chuco
By Christine Granados
University of Arizona Press
118 pp., paperback
In this gritty yet often comical debut collection, Christine Granados offers sharp, honest portraits of the people who cobble together decidedly unglamorous lives in El Paso known as “El Chuco” by its Mexican American inhabitants. Granados sets the tone with the first story, “The Bride,” where the narrator recounts her older sister’s dream to have a wedding like the ones pictured in glossy bride magazines:
“Rochelle was obsessed. Because all these ridiculous magazines never listed mariachis or dollar dances, she decided her wedding was going to have a string quartet, no bajo, horns, or anything, no dollar dance, and it was going to be in October. . . . I wasn’t going to tell her there is no ‘elegance’ to autumn in El Paso.”
Despite such planning and dreaming, Rochelle’s “perfect” wedding gives way to tarnished, unplanned reality that she unblinkingly accepts.
Granados’s women sometime prefer familiar abuse over healthy, mutually fulfilling relationships. In “Comfort,” Courtney has a history of dating men who beat and degrade her. But when her new boyfriend, Eliseo, fails to follow this pattern, she grows bored: “Respect. Something every girl wanted but didn’t really need. What Courtney wanted was passion.” She decides to push Eliseo to the breaking point, make him lose control, by needling him and challenging his manhood. Similarly, in “Love Web,” a receptionist falls for the office’s womanizer and willingly accepts sexual degradation just to be part of his life. These two women believe they are control of their private lives, and in many respects they are no matter how misguided they may seem. Granados allows her audience to understand how these women got to this place without preaching about the importance of self-respect. In other words, she trusts the intelligence of her readers to come to their own conclusions.
Not all of Granados’s women suffer at the hands of men. In “Small Time,” a mother forces her daughter to learn how to scam department stores by “returning” stolen merchandise. And in “Inner View,” a young woman cannot escape the inept and unintentionally humorous meddling of her family as she tries to interview for a well-paying paralegal position. But in neither of these stories does Granados implore us to pity these women because, in the end, they do not pity themselves.
Granados is a gifted writer who refuses to sugarcoat the lives of her characters. These stories are potent little portraits of brides and sinners who struggle through ordinary lives propelled by nothing more than a vague hope for something better. Granados is a writer to watch.