cover image Brother, Sister, Mother, Explorer

Brother, Sister, Mother, Explorer

Jamie Figueroa. Catapult, $26 (224p) ISBN 978-1-9482-2688-2

Figueroa’s masterly debut explores the grief and trauma of two half siblings. Four months after the death of their mother, Rosalinda, Rufina and Rafa Rivera, 28 and 30, make a pact: if they collect enough money performing for the tourists visiting their high desert town in the American Southwest over the course of a weekend, the depressed Rafa will live, traveling in search of new beginnings, instead of taking his own life. The siblings take to the streets, performing for white tourists who listen, entranced, at Rufina’s melodious, seductive whistling, or gaze intently at Rafa as he gleans meaning from the symbols he sees in people’s shadows. The siblings are haunted by the ghosts of those long gone, including that of Rufina’s stillborn baby, and by memories of their mother’s enigmatic former lover, the Explorer. Meanwhile, repeated intrusions of those who only wish to help—such as a cop who gives them a pass for performing without a permit as long as they don’t come back—add to the difficulty in achieving their goal. Though the novel brims with spellbinding prose, magical elements, and wounded, full hearted characters that nearly jump off the page, its most remarkable feature is perhaps its piercing critique of the white Anglo tourists’ tendency to romanticize people of color, as well as Figueroa’s examination of the traumatic effect this attitude can have on those who are deemed “the Other.” This cleverly constructed and deeply moving account enthralls. Agent: PJ Mark, Janklow & Nesbit Assoc. (Apr.)