Sergio Troncoso writes deeply personal fiction, confessional stories, with characters that are close to his own biography. Most of his narrators and main characters begin somewhere around El Paso, born to hard-working Mexican immigrant parents. The fathers are often aptly-described: “a crazed Mexican Vulcan, forging the meat of labor into capital,” and mothers as the shadow perhaps abused, perhaps overwhelmed by the men of their world and culture. The first story in the collection begins with the death of the father, at last, after a long illness, and the family coming together to mourn the man they loved and respected. The poor mother is finally free of the dominant man that marked her life with a kind of terror, but far too old and sick to do anything with that new freedom. It is a metaphor that perhaps extends out into the whole collection. The sons and daughters, pushing himself or herself free, discover that there is very little room for freedom of mind and spirit and self. The world took so much from them, set them up for hardship from the beginning, such that even their successes ring a little hollow, because they all feel so precarious. This is hammered home, of course, when the very narrator of the first story is on his land in New England, chopping wood in a beautiful, serene, scenic place, and suddenly a violent escaped convict arrives, and drags the narrator into the forest as a hostage. The fight is bloody and brutal and takes everything out of them both, and the victor of the battle has to drag himself without use of his leg back up the mountainside where his family might find him unconscious, nearly dead, in the yard when they get home from the grocery store.
This makes the collection sound violent, and it mostly isn’t. It’s mostly very internal, with a confessional style of writing, where narrators are always thinking, working through their traumas and ideas, finding a kind of language that the world mostly doesn’t want to hear, and they don’t really share with anyone. There is a world of constant language and movement inside their heads, and the world sees them only as outsiders, others, even in their own families and homes. The beautiful writing never leaves their heads, enters the air of dialog between characters, where things are more naturalistic and curt. There is a sea inside, of course.
It’s a very literary collection, concerned with the sort of immigrant experience that aspires to the upper echelons of society, mostly, capable of racing far ahead despite the many pitfalls and traps that both arises out of their family of origin, the ideas and expectations that culture and society placed upon them that don’t actually help them live fully-realized lives, as well as the ways in which the larger American society clashes and places pressures upon every step of their journey to something more than El Paso, Texas.