Not only can you, you should go home again. But it will never be the same. That’s part of the take-away from Jésus Salvador Treviño’s stories about raza kids who leave their extraordinary hometown to make careers elsewhere. As many others do, the kids of Arroyo Grande scatter after high school, off to the town next door, sluggard jobs, Hollywood studios, big time New York art world. Then, when disaster looms for Arroyo Grande, there’s a hometown power that pulls the kids together, old flames rekindle, old memories live, old magic is new. Can they save the day?
But what if, in a parallel universe, the old barrio is razed, a casino sucks out all the decency out of the kids, it’s a different world?
Then again, what if, in an alternate dimension you wake up and your dead wife is alive, as if almost everything has been a bad dream and you struggle when people around you think you mad?
Then you’d have Jesus Salvador Treviño’s latest collection of short stories, Return to Arroyo Grande, hot off the presses from Arte Publico. Return to Arroyo Grande is an intricate segue from Treviño’s two earlier collections, The Fabulous Sinkhole and The Skyscraper That Flew. Not that a reading of the earlier works is required. Still, Return to Arroyo Grande will have readers rushing to the Arte Público website or their local indie bookstore, to order the predecessors.
Treviño takes that “save the hometown from the developers” plot and sets it in a world where time shifting multidimensionality sends characters and events spinning in wildly divergent realities before folding time back on itself to beat the bad guys.
In the process, Treviño lets his imagination run freely, and delightfully, through the mind-bending conundrum of time-shifting and alternate dimensions. Yoli, Choo Choo, and Jeannie pass in and out of the same-but-different worlds, joined by a host of characters named Max Martinez, Rolando Hinojosa, Gary Keller (what, no Nick Kanellos?) whose resemblance to actual people is a coincidence, Treviño claims with a sly grin.
The Library of Congress calls Return to Arroyo Grande a short story collection, but Treviño weaves the collection into an eight chapter novel with chapters ending with a “no, he didn’t” cliffhanger. Will Yoli get to Parsons in NY, or is she destined to be a grocery bagger the rest of her life? Will Choo Choo make his movie, Attack of the Lowrider Zombies, or will he be stuck as a trash picker at Universal Studios? Will pragmatic Jeannie stay in the closet and go about a life of quiet desperation? And Bobby, will those critters turn him to floating protoplasm? Will Junior help Charlie get over killing Choo Choo?
You have to read Return to Arroyo Grande to get all the nuances and funny, funny stuff that happens on every page. Choo Choo, for example, wants to go to USC film school. He does, but he’s killed when, eyes in the viewfinder, backs into the street while filming his senior thesis. Or, the thesis film gets him financing from Paramount and Choo Choo becomes a big time movie-maker.
In Arroyo Grande, anything can happen. Magic is real. Imagine a world, your world, cruising along the time-space continuum, and it’s not alone. Looping along next to yours are infinite versions of the world you’re in right now. You’re always you as you slip through parallel dimensions and the other world hits the pause button.
Return to Arroyo Grande isn’t all fun and games. As with all top-notch speculative fiction, important perspectives lurk just beneath the surface, like the stuff that floated out of Mrs. Romero’s front yard in Treviño’s first book, The Fabulous Sinkhole.
Yoli does go to New York and becomes a fabulous painter. Her best work, a mind-bogglingly great portrait of Mrs. Romero, owes its appeal not to Yoli’s ability but the tube of light-defying Xenosium paint Yoli pulled out of Mrs. Romero’s sinkhole. You have a choice, Junior, a shrink, tells the unfortunate Charlie, who didn’t. Treviño sets up the choice option in the person of a street painter whose canvases hang in museums and major galleries, purchased by rich guys for millions. Disgusted by that, he reproduces his work and sells it on the sidewalk to ordinary gente for ten bucks or whatever you can afford.
Yoli makes a similar choice. She destroys all her work because she’d rather be known for her skill than her magic. She doesn’t want to become a fabulous artist with a gimmick, she prefers to make it big on her own.
Arroyo Grande isn’t a man’s world, either. Choo Choo aside, Yoli and Jeannie are the key characters as the novel-short stories reach their climactic end. Along with Mayor Nancy Cervantes and the ghost of Mrs. Romero, women take the lead in getting the kids back home to organize against developers Rebber and Barrón. And when they achieve what they assume is their victory, the archbishop wants to throw a big party.
The party’s the thing whereby to catch the conscience of el pueblo unguarded. Rebber, Barrón, and their corrupt pals on the city council approve the razing of the barrio. It looks like a bitter ending after all.
Arroyo Grande is a magic place. Magic takes over, saves la causa. Yoli and Choo Choo settle down in the old home town but it’s a completely different place than the one they returned to save. In the final analysis, el pueblo loses by winning. Nonetheless, there can be joy in change.
Is this yet another time-shifted dimension? Ay, yi yi; there’s the rub. And the fun.
Copyright 2015 by Michael Sedano. This review was first posted on La Bloga literary blog on November 10, 2015 and is posted on Latinopia with the author’s permission. To read more reviews of contemporary Latino literature visit: http://www.labloga.blogspot.com/