Friday, October 11, 2019

Review: A Peculiar Kind of Immigrant's Son

A Peculiar Kind of Immigrant's Son: Stories by Sergio Troncoso
Sergio Troncoso
Cinco Puntos Press - October, 2019

[from the publisher]

How does a Mexican-American, the son of immigrants, a child of the border, la frontera, leave home and move to the heart of gringo America? How does he adapt to the worlds of wealth, elite universities, the rush and power of New York City? How does he make peace with a stern old-fashioned father who has only known hard field labor his whole life? With echoes of Dreiser's American Tragedy and Fitzgerald's Gatsby, Troncoso tells his luminous stories through the lens of an exile adrift in the 21st century, his characters suffering from the loss of culture and language, the loss of roots and home as they adapt to the glittering promises of new worlds which ultimately seem so empty.


Review by Manuel Ramos

The "peculiar" son in Sergio Troncoso's latest short story collection is a resident of New York City, or perhaps New England. Maybe Iraq or the fantastic Library Island. He was born and raised in the Ysleta barrio of El Paso, Texas. His parents were “traditional” Mexicans. He is a success by the standards of the Twenty-first Century United States. He has a beautiful wife, loving children, respect of his peers. Given all that, what makes him “peculiar?”

The linked stories in A Peculiar Kind of Immigrant’s Son describe with insightful precision the predicament of those not born into the wealth and security of white upper middle-class (and above) America, but who, because of their talent, intelligence or perseverance, find themselves caught up in the throes of a neurotic American dream, with an overlay of nightmarish betrayal, hypocrisy, and loss of meaning.

The characters in these stories often are captured by Troncoso at the crux of an existential crisis. For example, in Rosary on the Border, a prodigal son returns home for his father’s funeral, and the son remembers that his father once told him, “We love you, David, but sometimes we didn’t know what to do with you. You are not like any one of us.” David recalls the dark and negative history of his life with his father. He remembers the embarrassment and frustration of dealing with the close-minded man, and how he felt removed from his mother because of the father. He concludes that he has “always been alone.” And yet, at the end, he stands guard, as he puts it, at his father’s casket. “I face only my father and who I am.”

In Fragments of a Dream, the tragic Maribel contemplates her future and is about to make a decision that will change her life forever. She is a sophomore in high school and a motel maid who has determined that she can “have everything,” that she can escape her family, escape returning to Narcolandia, escape being deported. Her boyfriend Hector, a Puerto Rican, is her means of escape. She envisions college for herself, a GED for Hector, a life made up of dreams, “’cause everybody dreams, just not everybody pays attention to all dreamers.”

Troncoso tells the heartbreaking tale of Maribel and Hector with agonizing clarity and patience. Their fate is not to be denied, even if there is no justice or fairness in the outcome.

In a cover blurb for the book, Junot Díaz praises these “aching stories.” That’s exactly how I felt when I finished reading the book. The knife of short fiction can cut close to the bone, and Troncoso yields a razor-sharp scalpel. His characters have escaped whatever it is that stood in their way, be it old superstitions or even older racism, but too often the price they pay has left them injured, not healed, adrift in their self-imposed exile, far from what should be home, yet in a place where they must be to survive.

Life in America, indeed.


I get the chance to talk with Sergio Troncoso about his gut-wrenching collection of stories, A Peculiar Kind of Immigrant's Son, at the Tattered Cover in LoDo (Denver) on Saturday, October 12 at 2:00 P.M. Please join us at the bookstore.


Manuel Ramos writes crime fiction. His latest is The Golden Havana Night (Arte Público Press.) 

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