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Six Kinds of Sky

The NewPages Book Reviews

This collection by Urrea is my first exposure to his writing, and you can bet I’ll be reading more from him. I am a lover of words, but in this encounter, I felt for the first time in love with the words I was reading. Urrea’s style is an incredible weave of emotion in language, creating character and imagery so real, so thick with texture I just wanted to wrap myself up in each page.

The six stories in this collection take the reader across the continent from rural villages of Mexico to South Dakota. The main characters’ lives deepen in complexity with each turn of the page. Their stories are heart wrenching in their fatalism, but they are not without resolve. The characters are so vivid, so human, their lives continue to replay in my memory long after I have closed the book.

In “Taped to the Sky” a man treks across the U.S. after having been left by his wife. Later, in a psychotropic state, he finds himself at the mercy of Native American, Don His Many Horses, to get him out of the dessert, as well as out of his rut of self-pity. “First Light” is the return visit of Henry to his rural Mexico family home, where forbidden love awaits and necessity triumphs over desire. Brilliantly chronicled, “A Day in the Life” follows a family of poverty-stricken trash pickers whose lives most of us would find unbearable without the additional hand of tragedy they are dealt. Still, while saddened and angered by the story, Urrea does not drop to merely culling pity, but rather deftly draws humility from readers who would consider themselves better off simply because of their material wealth.

Of all the stories, the first, “Mr. Mendoza’s Paintbrush,” was the one that had the greatest impact on me. I have read it aloud to everyone and anyone who will listen. It is the story of an adolescent boy’s memory of the village crazy man, Mr. Mendoza and his graffiti exploits. But more than this, it is a story of rebellion, of creative expression, of art, of life, and of believing.

Most notable in this collection is Urrea’s ability to write women. I hear the line from the movie, “As Good as it Gets,” when the woman asks, “How do you write women so well?” I answer it for Urrea by saying, he respects them, and he loves them. He expresses a clear and honest understanding in his writing of the thoughts and feelings of one gender for the other, as well each for their own.

As an added bonus, Urrea has provided an afterword, “Amazing Grace: Story and Writer,” in which he shares his thoughts and process on writing, as well as personal literary history and notes of interest on several of his stories.

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