August 2009

Road trip reunites estranged brothers

By Oscar Casares
Review by
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Oscar Casares’ Amigoland, his first novel and a follow-up to his much-acclaimed book of short stories, Brownsville, is a liberating journey full of warmth and color.

Don Fidencio and Don Celestino are senior-citizen brothers who live near each other but haven’t spoken in years. Their falling-out has something to do with a haircut, or the fact that Celestino never quite believed Fidencio’s account of a story their grandfather told him. At the prompting of his much younger new girlfriend, Socorro, Celestino attempts to reconnect with his aging brother. One fateful morning, Celestino and Socorro spring Fidencio from his nursing home. And bickering all the way, they journey through Mexico in search of their grandfather’s childhood home (which may not actually exist the way it does in Fidencio’s mind). By the last page, the trio just might find exactly what they need—but didn’t know they were searching for.

This dryly humorous yet big-hearted novel boasts three compelling and intricately drawn characters. Don Fidencio is imprisoned in a nursing home and growing bitter—and terrified—over the betrayals of his aging body, even as he holds on to his stubbornness and a still-flickering hope for resolution. Don Celestino shares his brother’s stubborn pride and faces his own uncertain future with a quiet sobriety. The two are just alike enough to clash—and alike enough to slowly grow to understand each other.

Meanwhile, Socorro, Celestino’s cleaning-lady-turned-lover, is a study in patience and wistfulness. Her name means “help,” and help she will—help broker understanding between the two brothers, help Fidencio during their whirlwind of travel and in the end, one hopes, help herself finally get what she wants.

In Casares’ gifted hands, the brothers and Socorro completely come to life, while the group’s impromptu trip to Mexico feels like a refreshing, rejuvenating trip for the reader as well as the characters. And the ending? Bittersweet, unexpected and undeniably precious.

All told, Amigoland is full of new friends and makes for perfect summer reading.

Jessica Inman writes and reads in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

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By Oscar Casares
Little, Brown
ISBN 9780316159692

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