Book Review: 'Hotel Juarez'

Critic Alan Cheuse reviews the new short story collection Hotel Juarez by Daniel Chacon.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block.

The Texas-Mexico border is home to writer Daniel Chacon. He teaches writing in El Paso, and in his new collection of writing is called "Hotel Juarez: Stories, Rooms and Loops." Our reviewer, Alan Cheuse, says it's fiction worth noting.

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: There's a young man who, in the story of Chacon's titled "Cherry Auction," discovers that he's really good at sketching. One of his pals wants a car. He draws a car, a BMW. Another friend asks for a Hummer. Our narrator draws it. I started drawing people everyone I went, he says; kids playing in the street, old people sitting on the bus, my mom at the kitchen table studying for a test.

In school art class, he paints low-riders and buxom Chicanas standing next to cars, he says. His talent grows as he sketches food for hungry friends. And for a girl he knows who wants money, as he puts it, a box overflowing with $100-bills. Then, a car, a house, new shoes, a stereo, a new dress.

In this same seemingly effortless fashion, Daniel Chacon's own talent goes into play, his collection unfolding with sketches of life on the actual border, a portrait of a young Chicano girl stretching her mind in a local library, a portrait of a huge boy who finds he prefers playing with dolls to sports, the quandary of a Mexican-American guy in France who finds in himself a divide between his private and public identity.

Only a few truly complete stories here in this collection but many sketches that Chacon draws for us in unpretentious prose, the essential shapes and forms of things in everyday life they emerge - the food, the cars, the animals, the people, the books, the movies, the games, the possessions all on the border between the U.S. and Mexico, all on the border between life and art.

BLOCK: That's Alan Cheuse with his review of Daniel Chacon's new collection called "Hotel Juarez: Stories, Rooms and Loops."

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