cover image Perpetual West

Perpetual West

Mesha Maren. Algonquin, $26.95 (384p) ISBN 978-1-64375-094-1

Maren’s meticulously observed sophomore effort (after Sugar Run) is a quasi-thriller about life on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. In 2005, 21-year-old Elana and her husband, Alex, move from Virginia to El Paso, Tex., where Alex is a sociology grad student. Alex, who was born in Mexico and adopted by Pentecostal missionaries from West Virginia, is drawn to his native country and, along with Elana, spends time exploring Juarez. There, he meets Mateo, a lucha libre wrestler to whom he is sexually attracted. When Elana flies east for a family emergency, Alex takes off with Mateo to visit Mateo’s hometown of Creel. Then, after Elana returns to El Paso, Alex is nowhere to be found, and she discovers he left his cellphone behind. Following a single clue—an ATM withdrawal from Creel—Elana sets out in search of Alex. Meanwhile, he and Mateo have been kidnapped by the nephew of a narcotraficante, who demands the wrestler compete for him. The ending feels a bit abrupt, but the author does an expert job of showing Elana and Alex’s separate arcs, and their story dramatizes border life in a nonclichéd fashion. It adds up to an admirable if imperfect vehicle for examining the gulf between the two countries’ cultures and people. (Jan.)