cover image The Bullet Swallower

The Bullet Swallower

Elizabeth Gonzalez James. Simon & Schuster, $26.99 (272p) ISBN 978-1-66800-932-1

Gonzalez (Mona at Sea) laces magical realism into her vivid epic of the Texas-Mexico border and the violence that shapes a family for generations. In 1895, Antonio Sonoro, a bandido living south of the border in the former mining town of Dorado, travels with his brother to Houston to rob a train. A shoot-out with Texas Rangers leaves his brother dead and Antonio with a hideous facial injury that earns him the sobriquet “El Tragabalas” (the bullet swallower). A parallel narrative set in 1964 follows Antonio’s Mexican movie star grandson Jaime, who stumbles onto his grandfather’s story and realizes its potential as a serious dramatic film role. The more Jaime learns about Antonio and about their family’s perfidious history, the more he believes the film will allow him to redress the Sonoro name. Both story lines feature the mystical figure Remedio, a collector of blighted souls who has haunted countless generations of Sonoros. The novel’s striking centerpiece follows Antonio and fellow desperado Peter Ainsley as they cut a swath across the border badlands. Their blazing guns and rich, Butch and Sundance–esque banter make Jaime’s persistence in bringing their story to the big screen understandable. Readers will find this a refreshingly modern recasting of the classic western. Agent: Peter Steinberg, Fletcher & Co. (Jan.)