My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The settings are San Diego, Tijuana, La Paz. The patriarch of the family is dying and throws one last birthday party that is combined with his mother’s funeral. I felt like I had attended the party, and the party felt like being at a family gathering as an outsider, trying to remember who belonged to whom and which generation they were. I was amused by a phrase at one point, “in the back room were children of unknown provenance.” To add to the confusion, characters are called by many names.
The first section (the mother’s funeral and the night before the party) and the third section (the party itself) are presented in time slots during which we are given a look into what various family members are doing–interspersed with memories, sometimes inner flashbacks and other times revelations in conversation. The middle section provides earlier family history.
As in any family, there are feuds and misunderstandings, members more and less likeable. All are presented sympathetically. Some of the drama is in the past, some in the present. The pace, never slow, quickens at the end when I couldn’t find a section where I could put it down.
Urrea is a new author to me. Thank goodness I heard him talk and read at Portland Book Festival. Now I have to go back and read earlier novels!