Every Night Is Ladies' Night

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Overview

With a cast of characters so vivid they seem to leap from the page, this collection of linked short stories offers a portrait of individuals aching to find their place in an indifferent world. The characters who inhabit these stories -- teenagers, beauty queens, race car drivers, and even grandfathers -- fall in love, strive to make ends meet, or search for answers to their future while reconciling the past. Michael Jaime-Becerra casts a warm glow on each of them.

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Every Night Is Ladies' Night

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Overview

With a cast of characters so vivid they seem to leap from the page, this collection of linked short stories offers a portrait of individuals aching to find their place in an indifferent world. The characters who inhabit these stories -- teenagers, beauty queens, race car drivers, and even grandfathers -- fall in love, strive to make ends meet, or search for answers to their future while reconciling the past. Michael Jaime-Becerra casts a warm glow on each of them.

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Editorial Reviews

USA Today
Every Night Is Ladies' Night by Michael Jaime-Becerra is a love letter to the city in which he was raised, a place where luck is in short supply but hope survives, as quiet and resilient as the sunrise … His affection for his characters is contagious, he has the wisdom to let them be what they are, and he makes us miss them when they're gone. This is his first book, and it's a lovely one indeed. — Anne Stephenson
The Washington Post
… this book is extraordinary. It's just great, and it brings shame on those who might want to treat it as in any way regional, or ethnic or quaint … Most of us have lost sight of lives lived at this terrifying level. These beautifully crafted stories jolt us into electric awareness, inviting us, as sleepers, to, for God's sake, wake up. — Carolyn See
Publishers Weekly
Intimate and sweetly slangy, this collection of 10 interconnected stories set in the hardscrabble, blue-collar town of El Monte captures the essence of Latino life in Southern California. Many of the characters and story lines revolve around the up-and-down fortunes of the Cruz family, starting with "The Corrido of Hector Cruz," which involves the efforts of an auto shop owner to balance the concerns of his newly pregnant wife with those of his troubled nephew Lencho, who comes to live with the couple after getting out of prison. Five years later, in "Riding with Lencho," Lencho must battle his girlfriend, who doesn't appreciate his attempts to educate himself by taking college night classes while working full-time as a mechanic. Jaime-Becerra adds some nice local color in "Georgie and Wanda," in which a stock car racer tries to quell his driving fears after a near-deadly wreck, while striving to win the heart of a Mexican trophy queen. The tour de force story in the collection is "Media Vuelta," which describes the journey of an older mariachi musician to Southern California to find his first wife. Instead, he runs into Lencho, who demands a musical performance in exchange for his help in the search. Jaime-Becerra's characters are notable for their innocence and good intentions. When they get into trouble-which is often-it's because of their surroundings. The author's ability to get inside the hearts and minds of his characters helps the collection rise above the general run of Spanglish-flavored fiction, as does his evocative, superreal scene-setting ("Mom's Tercel stalls at the signal on Durfee") and the immediacy of his present-tense prose, despite some awkward phrasings. The result is a collection that succeeds at several levels while establishing Jaime-Becerra as a writer to watch. (Feb.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
This debut collection presents ten interrelated stories, most of which feature Hispanic characters living in 1980s El Monte, CA. One must read them all to appreciate the totality of their impact. For example, readers will end up with a completely different understanding of "Georgie and Wanda" without reading the follow-up, "The Corrido of Hector Cruz." Although Jaime-Becerra (M.F.A., creative writing, Univ. of California, Irvine) portrays some remarkably convincing female narrators, they are basically indistinguishable from one another, a trait that also characterizes many of the situations. As a character-building device, the dialog fails to differentiate between the speech of a 17-year-old and that of a grandparent. Unfortunately, too, the stories are crammed with a lot of specific yet occasionally extraneous detail, so that the author tells rather than shows what the characters are like. Jaime-Becerra would have done better to let his creations speak for themselves with a little less intrusive artistic effort. The situations will appeal to Hispanic audiences, but that's about it.-Lawrence Olszewski, OCLC Lib., Dublin, OH Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Ten connecting stories, set mostly in 1980s California, deftly pursue a loosely connected family of Mexican-Americans with little money or education. Jaime-Becerra's protagonists are ice cream vendors, tattoo artists, and teenagers navigating American values in El Monte, California, while their old-world parents glower uncomprehendingly at the new ways. In "The Corrido of Hector Cruz," a young father-to-be is sent out for food to satisfy the cravings of his pregnant wife, whom he adores. The two are barely scraping by on low-wage jobs when they learn that Hector's nephew-his dead brother's young son, Lencho, fresh from reform school-must come live with them. Yet what might have been disastrous turns out-as happens often here-a kind of salvation for both the couple and for Lencho, who has no real skills but a lot of heart. Subsequently, in "Riding with Lencho," we learn that he becomes an auto mechanic, then gets by on disability when his ex-girlfriend scalds him with boiling coffee after growing enraged at his going to night school. In another familial tangent, the young narrator of the fine first story, "Practice Tattoos," watches in sad resignation as the fights between his mother and sister, Gina, over her boyfriends eventually propel her out the door forever. Later, Gina and her tattoo artist steady, Max, resurface in another eponymous story, trying to stay in love despite the louche types who supply Max's trade. The characters here want more than anything to do the right thing-fall in love and steer a better course, for example, though in a couple of stories, like "Media Vuelta," we're given a glimpse of the earlier generation back in Mexico: mariachi guitarist Jose Luis's courtship,for instance, and loss of his sweetheart. The writing is fluid, the details brisk and vivid as newcomer Jaime-Becerra reveals his characters without judging them harshly. Learn Spanish in richly affecting narratives from a strong new talent. Agent: Lisa Bankoff/ICM
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060559632
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/1/2005
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 1,445,419
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.68 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Jaime-Becerra was raised in El Monte, California. He still lives in the area and is at work on a novel.

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Read an Excerpt

Every Night Is Ladies' Night

Stories
By Michael Jaime-Becerra

Rayo

ISBN: 0-06-055962-4


Chapter One


Practice Tattoos


1987

If I make seven free throws in a row, Violet Cervantes will like me. I've made ten straight before, but now the rim is hard to see because it's late and the courts at Kranz have no lights. It feels like I've been out here for a couple of hours, but still I don't wanna go home because my mom and Gina were fighting over Gina's boyfriend when I left. Knowing my mom, she won't get over this guy Max having his ears pierced. I shoot the ball and miss. It bounces left to another court, the rim on this one all crooked and bent from someone hanging on it. Okay, if I make six in a row, Violet will like me.

I shoot and make it. Then two. Three. Four in a row. I'm about to make number five, but I stop because I hear yells and the smash of a bottle from the other end of the grass field by the basketball courts. It's probably cholos. Even though my mom makes me go to church with her twice a week because she says I make her feel safe, I'm so skinny that there's no way I could stop a bunch of drunk cholos from killing me if they wanted to. I turn around and shoot at the rim way on the other side, thinking of Violet, hoping the shot goes in. When the ball misses, I run after it and wonder where to go next.

Gina's dragged the phone into her room to talk to Max, laughing loud and making lots of noise because our parents aren't home. The cord's stretched straight from the phone jack by the couch, down the hall, under the door to her room. It looks like a tightrope, and I step on it, arms out for extra balance. One step and the cord pops out from the wall. Something bangs on the other side of Gina's door. I close my eyes, keep my arms stretched, and imagine that I'm falling, that a net will be there to catch me before I hit the ground. I open my eyes and Gina's staring at me, puppy dog slippers on her feet, green towel around her head like a genie. She calls me a fuckin' weirdo, then slams the door to her room.

I'm weird? I'm not the one with black nail polish on my toes. The one whose friends all think they're punk rock Draculas. I mean Gina's boyfriend, Max, all he wears is black. His pants are all tight and he always wears a leather jacket like it's glued to his back. Last month, when we went to see Beverly Hills Cop, I saw him and his friends pushing his green Tercel at the mall. It was almost summer, and the bus I was on had air-conditioning. Just looking at him pushing that car out in the heat and wearing that stupid jacket made me sweat. Max is weird, but at least he's not Junior, Gina's last boyfriend.

Junior always scratched and picked at his face. He was super-skinny too. One time I saw him with his shirt off and his stomach was all caved in like it was trying to eat itself. Him and my sister were together for like six months. For Gina that was like six years. When he would come and pick up my sister it was always a big deal. Gina said it was because Junior lived over in Pico Rivera and he had to take three buses to see her. I remember him biting his lip as he waited by the door for my sister. Junior always had this shitty, pissed-off look on his face, like he just came from a fight he had started and lost.

The last time anybody talked about Junior was also the last time I saw my mom drive the car. Math homework was kicking my ass that night. My mom answered the phone and listened for a few seconds before saying Junior's name and making the sign of the cross. She took the pencil from my hand, suds dripping onto my book as she leaned over to write in the margins. The dishes stayed in the sink, and my mom had me recopy her sloppy directions as she looked for the car keys and her purse. My mom's always been afraid to drive, but there she was, going fast and crazy, running a red light and honking at the screeching cars like it was their fault they were in our way.

We flew through Whittier Narrows and got to the bowling alley in about ten minutes. The big signs advertising 36 lanes and the slo-poke lounge colored everything red. My mom drove around the packed parking lot, and I went inside to look. The place was chilly from too much air-conditioning. I went up to the front desk, and before I could talk, the guy behind the counter put down the pair of shoes he was spraying and told me to get in line. Instead, I checked the pay phones and thought a couple times about going into the ladies' room. I wandered down to one end of the building, bumping into people while I looked for Gina's face. A bowler hollered in a lane nearby and kicked at the air like a ninja as the people around him laughed. I said Gina's name over and over as I tried to remember what she had on when she left the house.

After a while I went back outside and walked around the building. I could hear my mom before I even saw the two of them. The car was in front of an orange Dumpster, driver door open, engine still running. One of the headlights shone on Gina ...

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Every Night Is Ladies' Night by Michael Jaime-Becerra Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Practice Tattoos 1
Every Night is Ladies' Night 15
The Corrido of Hector Cruz 37
Lopez Trucking Incorporated 81
Georgie and Wanda 105
Riding with Lencho 131
Gina and Max 153
Media Vuelta 173
La Fiesta Brava 233
Buena Suerte Airlines 269
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Reading Group Guide

Introduction

With a cast of characters who ring so true to life they seem to almost bubble up from the page, Michael Jaime-Becerra's debut collection of linked short stories offers a portrait of individuals aching to find their own sense of soul in an indifferent world.

In "Practice Tattoos," we meet a teenage boy who lives in the shadow of his wild older sister and finds himself in the middle of a clash of the generations as their mother attempts to hold them close, in a blanket of traditional values. In "Georgie and Wanda," we follow Georgie, a race car driver as he pursues Wanda, the Mexican beauty queen -- the woman he's always dreamed about. In "Lopez Trucking Incorporated," we meet Grandpa Lopez when he pulls into town with his rig, surprising his family by showing up for his granddaughter's wedding, and then peeling away with her dress on the day of the ceremony. In "Media Vuelta," we meet 67-year-old Jose Luis, who has traveled all the way from Ciudad Chihuahua to El Monte, California, to reunite with his first wife, only to find that she has passed away. Many of the stories in this stunning first collection are connected, and as a result a real East Los Angeles community develops on these pages. Each character is trying to make ends meet, falling in love, burning for the future or attempting to reconcile the past -- they wrestle with the world they way we all do, and Michael Jaime-Becerra shines a warm light on them in this wonderful collection.

The subtlety in which Becerra uses to link each story with one another is masterful and shows the talent of a narrative craftsman who is more artist than conventional writer.

Discussion Questions

  1. How do the differences between the more traditionally-minded mother in "Practice Tattoos" and her acculturated daughter affect the story's narrator? How do they propel him toward occupying one world rather than the other?

  2. Lencho Cruz appears in three different stories over the course of the book. What changes do you see in his character with each appearance?

  3. Do you think Max makes the right choice at the end of "Lopez Trucking Incorporated"? How do you feel that his choice will affect his sister's marriage?

  4. In "Media Vuelta" we get to see Jose Luis at two points in his life. How does the younger Jose Luis compare to the older one who travels to El Monte in search of his former wife? Has he changed? How might the degree of/lack of change contribute to the outcome of his quest?

  5. What impact might Mini's decision at the end of "Buena Suerte Airlines" have on her marriage? Are her expectations of her future realistic?

About the author

Michael Jaime-Becerra was raised in El Monte, California. He still lives in the area and is at work on a novel.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 27, 2012

    I Also Recommend:

    GOOD BOOK -- HIGHLY RECOMMEND This was a book I've been meaning

    GOOD BOOK -- HIGHLY RECOMMEND This was a book I've been meaning to read
    for a long time, finally got around to it and so glad I did. Having
    grown up in Souther California I could relate to these characters. The
    stories made me laugh and made me cry too, NOT a boring book. I am
    looking forward to more books by Michael Jaime-Becerra

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 19, 2004

    Great storytelling

    This collection of short stories is wonderful and intriguing. Mr. Becerra¿s imagery is astounding and beautiful. I loved how the stories tied together and told different parts of each person¿s very interesting life. I found myself eagerly turning pages and unwilling to put the book down as I became wrapped up in each story. From the tired, old mariachi singer to the widow who drives an ice cream truck each character engaged me with their own personal anguish and memories.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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