From the Bookshelves: Gordo
Gordo is California author and artist Jaime Cortez’ debut short story collection, set in and around the Watsonville area (full publisher’s description below my signature). The book was also the December selection of Alta Journal’s California Book Club, a fantastic group that invites authors and featured writers to discuss the selected book. This meant I not only had the pleasure of reading Cortez’ short stories, but I also enjoyed hearing him answer questions about them and read selected excerpts.
As a work of autofiction, the stories in the book paint a picture of working-class, Spanish-speaking immigrants and Mexican, Central American, and South American Americans during the 1970s and 1980s. The character Gordo is based on Cortez himself, and the other characters are based on the people of his childhood.
So many topics are beautifully and openly explored, from sexuality to religion to domestic violence to familial relationships to poverty to immigration. Many of the stories are told from Gordo’s perspective, and they showcase Cortez’ ability to write in the voice of a young boy who doesn’t understand much of what he observes while providing the reader with a satisfying glimpse into the “why” of what goes on.
The stories cover heavy topics and are at times painful, yet there is humor as well. For example, in the opening story “The Jesus Donut,” one of the children in the migrant workers camp manages to buy two doughnuts, and a delightfully hilarious scene with a recreation of Catholic mass and communion (by doughnut) follows. At the same time, the story poignantly captures the extreme poverty of the camp and its residents.
I strongly recommend this collection that draws you in from the first story and keeps you reading without pause to the last. Look for Gordo at your local library or your favorite book seller!
Have you read something wonderful lately? Let me know in the comments or by messaging me directly!
ABOUT THE BOOK
Finalist for the 2022 Lambda Literary Award for Gay Fiction
Longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction
A “Best Book of August” at Bustle
A Best Book of the Year at NPR and BookPage
Description from the publisher:
The first ever collection of short stories by Jaime Cortez, Gordo is set in a migrant workers camp near Watsonville, California in the 1970s. A young, probably gay, boy named Gordo puts on a wrestler’s mask and throws fists with a boy in the neighborhood, fighting his own tears as he tries to grow into the idea of manhood so imposed on him by his father. As he comes of age, Gordo learns about sex, watches his father’s drunken fights, and discovers even his own documented Mexican-American parents are wary of illegal migrants. Fat Cookie, high schooler and resident artist, uses tiny library pencils to draw huge murals of graffiti flowers along the camp’s blank walls, the words “CHICANO POWER” boldly lettered across, until she runs away from home one day with her mother’s boyfriend, Manny, and steals her mother’s Panasonic radio for a final dance competition among the camp kids before she disappears. And then there are Los Tigres, the perfect pair of twins so dark they look like indios, Pepito and Manuel, who show up at Gyrich Farms every season without fail. Los Tigres, champion drinkers, end up assaulting each other in a drunken brawl, until one of them is rushed to the emergency room still slumped in an upholstered chair tied to the back of a pick-up truck.
These scenes from Steinbeck Country, seen so intimately from within, are full of humor, family drama, and a sweet frankness about serious matters – who belongs to America and how are they treated? How does one learn decency, when laborers, grown adults, must fear for their lives and livelihoods as they try to do everything to bring home a paycheck? Written with balance and poise, Cortez braids together elegant and inviting stories about life on a California camp, in essence redefining what all-American means.