One Life

David Lida. Unnamed (PGW, dist.), $16 trade paper (246p) ISBN 978-1-939419-95-8
Lida’s intense, intricate first novel follows the lives of Esperanza Morales, a 27-year-old undocumented immigrant from Mexico accused of killing her infant, and Richard, the 42-year-old American mitigation specialist tasked with humanizing her so that, if she’s convicted, Louisiana won’t give her the death penalty. The aspiring white knight drinks and sleeps his way through Mexico and the southern United States on his quest for “a mitigating circumstance: mental illness; great promise thwarted; violence, abuse and neglect; toxic waste in the well water; previous good deeds heretofore unpunished; a line of people willing to testify that they would be devastated if the client were put to death.” The author, a mitigation specialist himself, describes the profession with wit and insight, which provide are necessary moments of levity. The otherwise bleak narrative alternates between Richard’s account of the events leading up to his untimely death (revealed in the opening pages) and Esperanza’s memories of her long, fruitless search for a life with basic amenities and someone to love. Lida grounds a potentially disorienting plot in motifs that add texture and structure. Despite the prose’s occasional overreaches, the story succeeds as a dramatic tale of sex, drugs, alcohol, and violence, a thorough indictment of the U.S. and Mexican criminal justice systems, and a moody rumination on why we care about the lives of others. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 08/01/2016
Release date: 10/01/2016
Genre: Fiction
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