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Six Kinds of Sky

The Review of Contemporary Fiction

In “Amazing Grace: Story and Writer,” which follows the six stories in this collection, Urrea gives a good summary of its development: “The book is some kind of downward spiral. It starts out all full of jokes and ends in fighting and poverty and death. It reflects an early fascination with escape, and deals with returning, then staying put then dealing with it, whatever it is.” Comic talent evidences itself throughout, even in the longest story, the darker “A Day in the Life,” which follows the experiences of an extended family of garbage pickers in increments of the day, through love, death, suffering, and a fire that destroys everything but love and an indomitable (if romanticized) will to endure. The first story, about the Rosario graffiti artist Mendoza, offers sardonic humor and moves into the realm of “magical realism.”

Class struggle, official corruption, the remote distance of the USA and its concerns, perhaps stereotypical Mexican themes, are brought to life by the characters that populate this fiction and the gentle humor with which most of them are etched. The afterword suggests the ties between the fiction and Urrea’s experience, though there doesn’t seem to be such connection with “Taped to the Sky,” in which a cuckold, Hubbard, finds himself next to his wife’s dead car, tripping, meeting Don Her Many Horses; the confused stereotypes— white red, the shooting of the car, the image of Hubbard duct-taped to the ceiling, above a group of dancing warriors— are reductive and funny. The concluding stories deal with death: “Father Returns from the Mountain,” a version of Urrea’s father’s death and its effect, is strikingly well done. I should hope that Urrea will turn his keen eye on the large Mexican community in Chicago and its suburbs (he teaches at the University of Illinois-Chicago), individualizing their complex situations.

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