American Owned Love

Robert Boswell, Author Alfred A. Knopf $24 (323p) ISBN 978-0-679-43251-7
Two metaphors--a river that mysteriously turns dark as blood, and a motel marquee proclaiming American Owned/Love Covers All Sins--recur with rising intensity in Boswell's complexly plotted meditation on the mysteries of love and the corrosive divisions of race and class in America. Two communities near the border of southern New Mexico are neatly cleaved by the Rio Grande. On one side is Persimmon, a predominately white, middle-class town where unconventional, sexually promiscuous Gay Schaefer lives with her preadolescent daughter, Rita. On the other is the shantytown colonia of Apuro, a hovel of shacks that lack electricity and running water, where the residents are mainly illegal immigrants. Teenaged bully, thug and paranoid psychopath Rudy Salazar lives in Apuro, and his hate for a Mexican family that has escaped to Persimmon ultimately brings him to a brutal confrontation with naive, romantic Rita. Meanwhile, the self-dramatizing Gay attempts to rationalize her decision, 12 years earlier, to try to preserve sexual excitement in her marriage by pretending to divorce her husband, Sander, whom she meets for trysts once a month. Beginning with his unforgettable debut novel, Crooked Hearts, Boswell has demonstrated a compassionate understanding of dysfunctional families and misfits, and his insights about the self-destructive behavior of most of his characters are both bitingly sharp and tender. Numerous pages of hilarious adolescent conversation are rendered with the fidelity of wiretapped evidence. But his concern for the damage caused by poverty and ignorance results in some overripe writing as he attempts to explain the sources of Rudy's rage. When, in an apocalyptic scene, Apuro is razed by the self-righteous citizens of Persimmon, ""the ancient struggle between the powerful and the poor"" is reiterated with the artificiality of a stage set. Though Boswell's prose is as sinewy and lucid as ever, the characters are not truly appealing, and the narrative does not have the gripping urgency of Mystery Ride. By the end, however, the most naive and innocent of them all, Rita's boyfriend Enrique Calzado, finds the key to salvation in a symbolic gesture that redeems the other characters' bumbling efforts to make sense of their lives. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 03/03/1997
Release date: 03/01/1997
Paperback - 323 pages - 978-0-06-097746-7
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