Amigolandis Brownsville author Oscar Casares’s debut novel about two elderly brothers who set off on a road trip into Mexico. The brothers, Don Fidencio and Don Celestino, have been estranged for a long time. After a health scare, Don Celestino decides to reach out to his older brother, Don Fidencio, who is 91 years old and living in a nursing home in Brownsville, Texas.
Don Fidencio is twenty years older than Don Celestino, who, aside from this heath scare, still feels able-bodied and young at heart. Meanwhile, Don Fidencio hates life in the nursing home. He, too, feels young at heart. He still tries to be as self-sufficient as possible, and even though he is 91 years old, he adamantly believes that he does not belong in the nursing home full of dying old people. He hatches a plot for Don Celestino and his girlfriend, Socorro, to get him out of the nursing home and travel him deep into Mexico to their grandfather’s ranch, El Rancho Capote, which may or may not exist. Don Fidencio wants to put to rest once and for all the argument that led to their estrangement, and prove that his mythical version of their grandfather’s history is the correct one. Though Don Celestino and Socorro balk at his request at first, they take pity on Don Fidencio’s life in the nursing home and agree to go with him to El Rancho Capote.
Casares has a beautiful way with words. I live about an hour away from Brownsville, TX, and I’m constantly amazed at his ability to capture the atmosphere of the Rio Grande Valley. I also love the personalities he gives his characters. Take, for instance, this passage describing Don Fidencio’s naming system in the nursing home:
The point of this challenge is to read 6 books whose titles are somehow related to 6 given categories. This year, the categories were food, water, title, plant, place, and music.
My favorite read for the challenge, hands down, was Brownsville: Stories. The book, written by Oscar Casares, is a collection of unrelated short stories set in South Texas. I read both of Casares’s books this year, and I love how he’s able to capture the local culture in his work.
My least favorite book was Hot Water Music. The book was also a collection of about 40 short stories, most being about three pages in length. It was my first Bukowski experience, and quite frankly, it will probably also be my last Bukowski experience. (But hey, if I ever feel like reading someone’s drunken diatribes and misogyny sometime in the future, at least I’ll know where to turn.)
I wish I had read Oscar Casares’s debut collection of stories when I was living in New York and feeling homesick; I read this in one sitting! Set in Brownsville, Texas, Brownsville definitely captures the essence of life in the Rio Grande Valley. The Texas-Mexico border is at times a world all of its own, and Casares certainly uses this to his advantage throughout his work.
The protagonists in each of the stories vary widely, from a little boy working at Mr. Z’s fireworks stand, to an older woman whose prized bowling ball is stolen. Yet each of these characters are so incredibly recognizable to people living in south Texas. I was especially delighted at the language and incorporation of local pronunciations of Spanglish (some of it is hysterical).
My favorite stories were “Mr. Z” (about the little boy working at the fireworks stand), “Domingo” (about the old man working in the U.S. to send money back to his wife in Mexico), and “Big Jesse, Little Jesse” (about a man whose son was born with a slight deformity).
After reading this collection of stories, I very much look forward to reading Casares’s debut novel, Amigoland.