From the Publisher
Border Regional Library Association honors Ray Gonzalez for lifetime contributions to literature of the Southwest!
Winner, Western Heritage Award for Fiction, 2002
Second Place, Best Literary Short Stories, Latino Literary Hall of Fame, 2002
"[A] remarkable debut short-story collection. Set in El Paso, Juarez, San Antonio, and New Mexico, his stories resemble legends or folktales in their brevity, simplicity of style, and profound and resonant mystery. . . . Gonzalez conjures a magical and entrancing world rife with sorrow and inexplicable powers, haunted by the spirits of murdered and displaced Mexicans and Indians, and blessed by miracles, love, and subtle humor." Booklist
"Novelists can sometimes waste words and still make a lot of money; writers of short fiction mete out their words carefully and usually make only friends. This is Gonzalez's first collection of short fiction, and he does not squander a syllable. . . . Gonzalez shows real talent as a storyteller. As a prolific poet and editor, Gonzalez is well known in literary circles, but he has yet to achieve wider recognition. This could be a step in that direction." Publishers Weekly
"Gonzalez has written what can be likened to a delectable meal. Divided into three sections, the book builds in flavor, richness, and intensity. . . . This carefully considered body of short fiction, Gonzalez's first collection, is recommended for literary and Latino collections." Library Journal
"Gonzalez is a terrific writer with a straightforward and genuine style and has a wonderful way with words." Southwest Book Views
"Gonzalez's prose has a spookiness to it. His beautiful descriptions of nature will have readers repeatedly going over his stories." El Paso Times
Prolific poet, anthologist, and short story writer Gonzalez (literature, Univ. of Minnesota) has written what can be likened to a delectable meal. Divided into three sections, the book builds in flavor, richness, and intensity. Part 1 is composed of 14 two- to five- page stories mainly focused on morsels of Southwest history, folklore, and legend. In one, Gonzalez imagines real-life explorer Cabeza de Vaca in an encounter with the indigenous people of the Americas. In another, a black pig dominates a town's consciousness. In Part 2, contemporary young people encounter myth and history from which they try to create a usable past. Then, in the final section, eight longer stories deal with modern themes. One piece relates how a couple on an archaeological dig lets their personal relationship spill over into their professional one. Another shows the corrupt migra (the immigration police), who fight with drug runners over local supremacy. The undertone of legend and folklore established early in the collection infuses the later stories with depth and substance, leaving the reader with a desire for only a brief denouement - a cafe con leche, so to speak. This carefully considered body of short fiction, Gonzalez's first collection, is recommended for literary and Latino collections. - Harold Augenbraum, Mercantile Lib. of New York. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Read an Excerpt
THE SCORPION EATER
He held it up to the candlelight so Miguel could see it glowing in the jar. It twitched and twisted its tail, the flickering light moving through its body like pulses of danger. Miguel watched as the man drew the jar closer and removed the wire screen that served as a lid. The man, who had a black moustache and tied his hair back in a ponytail, nodded. Miguel wondered where his abuela had met such a strange person, but he did not ask him any questions, not even his name. He had no choice but to sit and watch the stranger play with the scorpion in the jar.
Miguel's parents were dead and his abuela was lost in the cantina, and this man came to visit him often. He told him he was a friend of his abuela. He usually brought Miguel a piece of fruit or a large bottle of soda, sometimes a whole plate of delicious enchiladas from the cantina. Miguel thought the man with the long hair worked in the cantina, a place where his abuela spent most of her time. Tonight was different because the stranger brought the large scorpion in the jar. He sat at the kitchen table and motioned to the boy to join him. At first, Miguel wanted to run when he saw what was in the jar, thinking this man might want to set the scorpion loose on him.
"Don't worry, Miguel," the man said. "Your abuela knows I am with you tonight. She told me to watch over you. She gave me this as a gift. This is her jar, and the scorpion belongs to her. She told me this is the kind of magic we have because she and I love each other. Itis like the love she has for you. She is a good abuela. Don't ever forget that, Miguel."
Miguel didn't understand what the man was telling him. He knew his grandmother loved him, but he was tired of spending every night alone. The stranger's visits helped to take the loneliness away, but he was tired of him, not knowing what to think about his behavior and the unusual stories he told. As he watched him remove the screen from the top of the jar, Miguel realized the scorpion was not for him. It was a gift from his abuela to the man, one of her boyfriends, even though Miguel had not seen them together in her bedroom for a long time. The man tipped the jar and carefully brought it to his face. The scorpion slid to the bottom of the jar as he tilted it. It hit the bottom, then started to climb up the smooth glass. Miguel could see its pale red legs and its gnarled yellow tail stiff and alert. The tip of its stinger glistened black in the dimly lit room. The man did not tremble but held the jar steady in both hands. Miguel pushed his chair farther away and yearned for his abuela to come home.
He rose from the chair, trying not to startle the scorpion, and glanced toward the door, ready to run. His fascination with what the man was doing kept him from moving. Miguel thought of the last time he had found this man in bed with his abuela. They had blown out all the candles in the small house. Miguel was awakened by the sounds in his abuela's room. He lay still and heard the moans. He thought his abuela was hurt and tiptoed across the dark house to her room. When he reached the open door, this man was on top of his abuela. They didn't notice him, and their naked bodies kept moving in the dark. He watched for a few seconds until a shadow in the open window startled him and he went back to his room.
The man opened his mouth wide as the scorpion stopped a few inches from his steady lips. Miguel wanted to say something and stop the man from playing this kind of trick on him. Suddenly, the man tapped the jar hard against his open mouth, and the scorpion disappeared into it. Miguel covered his eyes with his hands and heard the man swallow with a large gulp. He moved his hands from his face to see the man drink from a bottle of beer. The man put it down with a thud and tapped the empty jar on the table with his fingers. He wiped his lips with the back of his right hand, his dark eyes reflecting the burning candle that flickered on the other end of the table. The man reached behind his head and loosened his long hair from its tie. He shook his head, and his hair cascaded over his shoulders.
"Are you okay?" Miguel asked.
The man nodded, rose from his chair, and grabbed the candle. Miguel followed him outside, the flame guiding the two of them into the black night. Miguel stood next to the stranger, hoping they had stepped outside to greet his abuela. He waited for the man to do something, but all he did was hold the candle and stare down the dark streets. Miguel thought he saw someone coming up the street, but the shadow vanished in the trees surrounding the adobe houses. With a jolt, the man grabbed his stomach, groaned loudly, and went back inside. Miguel followed and shut the door. The man sat at the table and did not move for a long time, then lay his head over his crossed arms. Miguel thought about the scorpion in the man's stomach, hoping his abuela would show up. He remembered the story she had recently told him about her brother Efren, who had been killed by a powerful tornado that had hit the town years before Miguel was born. She said Efren had been found high up in a tree. The force of the tornado had thrown him atop a giant cottonwood that had survived the heavy winds. People saw the tree hanging over the river and came running when someone said there was a body up there. His abuela was glad to find her brother because six other people had disappeared in the tornado. They brought him down and buried him near the river. She told Miguel the story to let him know their pueblo was a special place to live and Miguel should watch the sky and the river, paying attention to the huge cottonwoods that lined the water and that led to a bigger world she said Miguel would find someday.
Miguel wondered if the scorpion in the man's stomach was as strong as the tornado that had taken his abuela's brother into the sky. He waited and heard the man snoring at the table, then almost jumped out of his chair when his abuela entered. She burst through the door as if expecting to walk in on something terrible.
"What is he doing here?" his abuela demanded. Miguel could smell the cantina on her breath and clothes.
"He was staying with me like he always does. We were waiting for you to come home," Miguel said as his abuela tottered over him. "He told me you gave him the scorpion."
"What scorpion?" His abuela slapped Miguel on the head.
He sat down and tears streamed from his eyes. She shook the sleeping man. "¡Cabrón! Vámonos!" She tried to get him to leave.
When he wouldn't wake up, she pushed him off the chair. He fell loudly to the floor. Miguel couldn't tell which of the two was drunker but settled on his abuela. His abuela kicked the sleeping man.
"What's wrong with this borracho?" she asked.
"He ate the alacrán."
"What?" She turned threateningly toward Miguel.
"He ate the scorpion he said you gave him."
Her red eyes seemed to ignite as she realized what Miguel had been trying to tell her.
"Vámonos," she motioned to Miguel.
She grabbed him by the arm and dragged him out of the house. They moved quickly down the deserted street, the cool night air helping Miguel to fight off his terror. As she led him tightly by the hand, he turned to look at the house. His abuela had left the front door open. Miguel could see the candle still flickering. Its flame enlarged itself as it reached the bottom of the cup, and the light threw an arc across the open doorway. Right before they rounded the street corner, Miguel saw the silhouette of an enormous scorpion tail covering the glowing doorway. The last thing he saw was the quick way it struck and muffled the final seconds of the melting candle on the empty table.
THE BLACK PIG
My grandmother Julia told me the black pig strolled into the village when she was fourteen years old and nobody could catch it. She said they had never seen it before but wondered how a black pig could enter the village without anyone claiming ownership of it. When several boys tried to catch it and tie it up, it ran down the dirt streets. It was a huge pig with scars all over its back, its sharp hooves a bright pink in contrast to its black body. My grandmother said the pig disappeared around the corner of one of the adobe houses and squeezed its bloated body under the wooden bridge that stood over the dry creek.
The boys surrounded the bridge but couldn't get the pig to come out. They poked it with sticks and threw rocks at it until Jose, my grandmother's brother, told them to leave the pig alone. The boys stopped and listened to the creature grunt and snort under the bridge. Some of them said it was stuck under there. Others knew that the behavior of pigs meant it was just hiding and could come out and attack them if it wanted. The pig waited and the boys waited. Nothing happened for a long time. Jose wanted the boys to go home and said he would coax the pig out and take it to his farm until somebody claimed it. My grandmother came down to the bridge after the boys gave up and left the pig alone. She watched Jose crawl under the bridge and heard him talking to the pig. The huge thing had calmed down, but my grandmother could hear an occasional oink as Jose tried to be friendly.
Excerpted from The Ghost of John Wayne and Other Stories by Ray Gonzalez. Copyright © 2001 by Ray Gonzalez. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.