Monday, December 31, 2012

The Boy Kings of Texas, by Domingo Martinez

It appeared on the Best of the Year list for the National Book Award.  Out of the blue, a memoir by somebody who was not famous, not even a mainstream Achiever, published by a publisher whose very name was unfamiliar, and set primarily in Brownsville, Texas, a place so out of fashion it seems almost out of the United States.  Brownsville, after all, is for most of us a quirky refuge for Americans fleeing Winter and maybe wanting to look at birds.
But what is this book? It is an autobiography (called a memoir possibly with an eye to classifying it in a category which might win an award) of a boy who grew up in a desperately poor and disfunctional family, where the grandmother is more ferocious than many of the men, where meals are irregular and wildly unhealthy and where the major skills are not agriculture or ranching but repairing and driving large unwieldy vehicles sometimes for long distances and frequently without brakes.
The author paints exasperated but loving portraits of his family members and doesn't shy away from telling about the misdeeds and minor crimes he and his family have committed (in his first night in jail, he edits and corrects the police report because he can't stand so many grammatical errors).
He eventually became a graphic designer and illustrator and, as of this year, a writer.  He has promised a second volume continuing his adventures; this book ends when he was a young adult.
By ordinary standards this wouldn't catch anybody's eye, but someone somewhere in the literary world saw it and liked it.  It was passed from hand to hand and became a finalist for one of the most prestigious annual book awards. Stranger things have happened.
This is not a recommendation.... exactly.  But I do admit I couldn't stop reading till the end.


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