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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
J. Reeder Archuleta was raised in Texas close to the Mexican border, and five generations of his family are in their final resting place there. His great-grandfather is buried in Concordia Cemetery in El Paso, within spitting distance of the grave of John Wesley Hardin.
Archuleta has authored two books, Rio Sonora: A Story of the Arizona Rangers and The El Paso Red Flame Gas Station and Other Stories.
J. Reeder Archuleta
Dog Ear Publishing
Paperback, 978-1-4575-5919-8 (also available as an e-book), 132 pages, $9.99
Where most of us might see only dry, windy, hardscrabble land, Far West Texas native J. Reeder Archuleta can see beauty. Of course, it's beauty that can turn harsh and unforgiving if you forget to pay much attention to the vast sky sweeping overhead.
Likewise, we might notice a few weathered, seemingly nondescript people if we stopped for gas in a small town near the Texas–New Mexico border. Archuleta, however, would see human stories spanning much of life’s emotions and experiences.
The El Paso Red Flame Gas Station and Other Stories, Archuleta's second book, is an absorbing coming-of-age tale that unfolds within a collection of eight short stories. Set in the 1950s and ’60s, in a small town that is not named, the stories have changing viewpoints and changing casts of interconnected characters. Yet one figure is present in each story — an abandoned child named Josh, who grows into manhood over the course of this well-written collection.
Josh sometimes is a story’s central character. Other times, he is mentioned in somebody’s conversation. Or, he is one of several observers witnessing a tense, dramatic, or violent between two or more townspeople. Yet each appearance helps reveal more of the young man the abandoned boy will become.
During the 1950s, Josh’s mother has left him sitting on a bench outside of a bar, the Cotton Club Saloon, and promised to return for him later that day. Instead, she flees, and Josh is taken in and given a cot in a back room of the bar. There, he grows up, watched over by several of the bar regulars, including a Korean War veteran named Rip O’Leary. Josh does his schoolwork while sitting at the bar, and he runs errands for the bar’s owner and others.
In one story, Rip reflects on Josh’s hard childhood, impressed that “the boy never complained and never asked for anything except work, so he could earn his own way” and how he “would not stop working until he was told to.”
Once Josh is in high school, he becomes a star linebacker and pass receiver on the football team, and he begins dealing with the complexities of trying to have a girlfriend. Here, it becomes easy for readers to start sensing echoes of Larry McMurtry’s classic small-town Texas novel, The Last Picture Show. Yet, Archuleta has his own voice. And he is very good at describing West Texas people, how they speak, and how their stark surroundings can both shape their lives and tear them down. Some of his scenes and descriptions, such as that of a dust devil gathering strength and debris and swirling into town, may linger in readers’ minds for a long time.
The book’s only noteworthy flaws are about a dozen or so typos involving punctuation, capitalization, or missing quotation marks. These are not significantly distracting, but careful proofreading seems to be a lost art among publishers these days.
In The El Paso Red Flame Gas Station and Other Stories, Josh gains some new maturities while fighting in the Vietnam War. And those new strengths are put to the test again, once he returns home to a changing town that has almost abandoned him during his absence.
J. Reeder Archuleta wisely has left this book’s pathways open for a sequel story collection or a spinoff novel. Add him to your list of writers to watch.
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