Alan Cheuse Reviews 'Breathing, In Dust'
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
Tim Hernandez is a poet who has expanded to prose. In his first book of stories, he evokes a small fictional town in California's Central Valley called Catela. The book is called "Breathing in Dust," and our reviewer Alan Cheuse has high praise.
ALAN CHEUSE: Catela is a small, down-at-heels farm town populated by undocumented farm workers, first generation Mexican-Americans, and some Greeks and Armenians. Most of these folks have no money. Those who have some spend what little they have on drugs, as in just about every story in this skein of related short narratives.
They have deep affection for one another, even though even blood relatives sometimes show it in violence or indifference.
A young local poet named Tlaloc toasts them all. To say Catela, he pronounces for us, is to say Chihuahua and Ararat and Grecia and Medina all in a single breath. To live it is a whole other tangle of vines.
For all its tangle of vines, Catela isnt much of an Eden, as we learn from following the adventures of young Tlaloc, who celebrates both the light of Catela and the darkness, in dramatized experiences of his own, in letters to a girlfriend and in the incantatory poem he reads to a small audience in an out-of-the-way cafe in a run-down L.A. neighborhood toward the end of the book.
When I die, the young poet chants, I want great ceremonies illuminating gray sulk of olive branches and junk piles where as a child I threw volcanic stones at abandoned engines, to witness the resonance echo against saffron foothills in autumn and how the swallowtails fled their mud nests and swarmed with bats in the dusk.
You feel that same incantatory power throughout this down and dirty and beautiful first book of fiction.
BLOCK: The collection of stories is called "Breathing In Dust" by Tim Hernandez. Our reviewer, Alan Cheuse, teaches writing at George Mason University.