cover image Carry Me Like Water

Carry Me Like Water

Benjamin Alire Saenz. Hyperion Books, $22.45 (503pp) ISBN 978-0-7868-6135-4

The river metaphor courses everywhere through this first novel by the author of the American Book Award-winning poetry collection Calendar of Dust. It's evident in the spate of words that gushes from every character, including deaf-mute Chicano Diego, who muses in dolorous torrents as he writes his life work, a suicide letter. There are characters, themes and plot elements enough for three books, let alone one, and the resultant cascade comes perilously close to overflowing the banks of potboilerdom. In El Paso, Diego misses his long-lost sister Maria Elena (aka Helen), who can't believe she deserves to be living the good life in Palo Alto, married to Eddie, a secret millionaire who misses his long-lost big brother, Jacob. Helen's nurse friend Lizzie inherits her long-lost twin brother's gift of astral travel and second sight, discovers her Mexican roots and feels mysteriously drawn to Jacob (who misses Eddie) while nursing his dying Chicano lover, who comes from El Paso. Although there are flashes of lyricism, the flood of repetitive verbiage quickly palls. Only after almost half of the characters die do the survivors reunite in El Paso. Readers who enjoy a long, involved narrative with ethnic detail may find this a good summer read. Major ad/promo; author tour. (July)