Justin Torres grew up in upstate New York. His work has appeared in Granta, Tin House, and Glimmer Train. A graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, he is a recipient of the United States Artist Fellowship in Literature and is now a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford. He has worked as a farmhand, a dog-walker, a creative-writing teacher, and a bookseller. Frankie J. Alvarez is a film and television actor best known for his roles as a gangster or thug. He has appeared on such television shows as 24, CSI: Miami, and Entourage, among others.
Three brothers and a dueling husband and wife are bound by poverty and love in this debut novel from Stegner Fellow Torres. Manny, Joel, and the unnamed youngest, who narrates, are rambunctious and casually violent. Their petite "white" mother, with her night-shift job and unstable marriage to the boys' impulsive Puerto Rican father, is left suspended in an abusive yet still often joyous home. Nothing seems to turn out right, whether it's Paps getting fired for bringing the boys to work or Ma loading them in the truck and fleeing into the woods. The short tales that make up this novel are intriguing and beautifully written, but take too long to reach the story's heart, the narrator's struggle to come of age and discover his sexuality in a hostile environment. When the narrator's father catches him dancing like a girl, he remarks: "Goddamn, I got me a pretty one." From this point the story picks up momentum, ending on a powerful note, as Torres ratchets up the consequences of being different. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
In punchy, energized language, the narrator of this dark and affecting little book relates life with his two brothers and their too young, just-making-it parents. The boys play and fight, with the first sometimes blending into the second, and though the parents can be loving with each other and with their sons, there's often trouble. Ma stops going to work when Paps briefly takes up with another woman, for instance, and becomes spiteful when he brings home a new truck with no seat belts or even backseats. The narrative moves in a straight line but is not straightforward, with the story and the texture of this family's life disclosed through a string of telling incidents. The narrator reports it all in a dispassionate, almost starry-eyed youngster's sort of way, frequently in the first person plural-"we were allowed to be what we were, frightened and vengeful-little animals, clawing at what we need"-but a creeping tension is in the air. When real anguish bursts forth at the end, you almost think it comes un-deserved-and then you applaud first novelist Torres's genius ability to twist around and punch you in the gut. VERDICT Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 3/28/11.]-Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.