“Brownsville Stories”

This is a collection by Oscar Casares, an author I ran across when looking for fiction set in the Rio Grande Valley. Also uncovered was an older book, Americo Paredes’  unfinished novel “George Washington Gomez.” So far I’ve yet to finish the novel, which I’ll review here too. I read most of the Casares stories.

The Brownsville fiction is well-crafted, conservative writing. Casares unfolds some nice stories, produced in the tradition of short fiction as influenced by the University of Iowa. He controls the use of Spanish phrases, tactically placing them so they read with sensibility and purpose.

It’s good stuff, but there’s not much dirt under the fingernails. I wanted to learn more about the underbelly of places like Matamoros, Alice TX, Nuevo Progreso, Reynosa, McAllen. I’ve spent some time in the Valley and across the Bridge and get the sense of something stewing underneath the surface. It’s a rough and tumble part of the country, straddling two cultures and unknown subcultures. It’s why I would assume any writing about it would take risks and  have a more investigative aspect or at least some edginess. But the stories strike me as more suburban, on the safe and quaint side.  Some pieces, like the bowling ball story, have the guided familiarity of an American sitcom.

I’m corrupted by Junot Díaz and Roberto Bolaño. Still, I think Casares’ story-writing, solid as it is, could use a dose of hot sauce.