M. Jaime-Becerra, Author, Michael Jaime-Becerra, Author . HarperCollins/Rayo $23.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-06-055962-5

Intimate and sweetly slangy, this collection of 10 interconnected stories set in the hardscrabble, blue-collar town of El Monte captures the essence of Latino life in Southern California. Many of the characters and story lines revolve around the up-and-down fortunes of the Cruz family, starting with "The Corrido of Hector Cruz," which involves the efforts of an auto shop owner to balance the concerns of his newly pregnant wife with those of his troubled nephew Lencho, who comes to live with the couple after getting out of prison. Five years later, in "Riding with Lencho," Lencho must battle his girlfriend, who doesn't appreciate his attempts to educate himself by taking college night classes while working full-time as a mechanic. Jaime-Becerra adds some nice local color in "Georgie and Wanda," in which a stock car racer tries to quell his driving fears after a near-deadly wreck, while striving to win the heart of a Mexican trophy queen. The tour de force story in the collection is "Media Vuelta," which describes the journey of an older mariachi musician to Southern California to find his first wife. Instead, he runs into Lencho, who demands a musical performance in exchange for his help in the search. Jaime-Becerra's characters are notable for their innocence and good intentions. When they get into trouble—which is often—it's because of their surroundings. The author's ability to get inside the hearts and minds of his characters helps the collection rise above the general run of Spanglish-flavored fiction, as does his evocative, superreal scene-setting ("Mom's Tercel stalls at the signal on Durfee") and the immediacy of his present-tense prose, despite some awkward phrasings. The result is a collection that succeeds at several levels while establishing Jaime-Becerra as a writer to watch. (Feb.)

Reviewed on: 02/02/2004
Release date: 02/01/2004
Genre: Fiction
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