cover image Lesser Evils: Ten Quartets

Lesser Evils: Ten Quartets

Gary Soto. Arte Publico Press, $9.5 (142pp) ISBN 978-0-934770-77-4

In these autobiographical essays, which have appeared in Zyzzyva and other journals, poet and American Book Award-winner Soto takes up the big themesmoney and success, love and sex, youth and age et al.with a warm touch and an ingenious technique. In the four parts that form each quartet, Soto informally relates incidents from his past as a youngster in California, his college days in the '60s, and from his present as a writer and professor in his 30s. Some pieces are pure as prayers, others coarse with Soto's libidinous humor; he is lighthearted in a piece describing his sexual awakening, and pensive when he resigns himself to the loss of his youth. While much pleasure arises from Soto's poetic talents for capturing small, telling details of his life, the book's depth lies in its quartet structure. Each of four independent parts engages an essay's theme from a different angle, and together they synthesize new meaning. In one quartet, Soto gathers with pals for dinner, watches women one day, reviews a movie and describes his wardrobe in what amounts to a fine essay on gender and sexual roles in America. Throughout, Soto uses his gift for making the personal universal, and readers will feel privileged to share the vision of this man who finds life perplexing but a joy. (April)