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Michelle Newby is contributing editor at Lone Star Literary Life, reviewer for Kirkus, freelance writer, member of the National Book Critics Circle, blogger at www.TexasBookLover.com, and a moderator at the 20th annual Texas Book Festival. Her reviews appear in Pleiades Magazine, Rain Taxi, World Literature Today, High Country News, South85 Journal, The Review Review, Concho River Review, Monkeybicycle, Mosaic Literary Magazine, Atticus Review, and The Collagist.
Joe Jiménez, the author of Bloodline (Piñata Books, 2016) and The Possibilities of Mud (Kórima Press, 2014), is the recipient of the University of Notre Dame’s Institute of Latino Studies 2016 Letras Latinas/ Red Hen Press Poetry Prize. He lives in San Antonio, Texas, where he teaches at Thomas Jefferson High School and is a member of the Macondo Writers’ Workshop.
Piñata Books (an imprint of Arte Público Press)
Paperback, 978-1-55885-828-2, 132 pgs., $11.95
May 30, 2016
Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? —Mary Oliver
Abram is seventeen, living with his grandmother in San Antonio. His father died when he was three years old — no one will tell him how or why — and his devastated and overwhelmed mother left soon after. Abram has had four fights and two suspensions this school year, and it’s not yet Thanksgiving. His grandmother is distraught; she worries that Abram needs a man to model male adulthood for him, that her example, love, and care cannot suffice. She lost Abram’s father; she will not lose him, too. Enter Tío Claudio, bombastic, volatile, manipulative, and avaricious.
Bloodline is the debut novel from Joe Jiménez. This slim volume of young adult fiction is rich in emotion and language, diving deep into the perilous psychological territory of violence, harboring a final plot twist that caused me to fall silent and still.
The plot of Bloodline is simple, the pace steady. Jiménez employs a second-person point of view for Abram’s narrative, for reasons that aren’t clear until near the end of the story. It’s a difficult narrative mode, but elegant and haunting in this writer’s hand. The characters are relatable and complex — notably Abram and his girlfriend, the smart, red-headed Ophelia — and allowed a good deal of further development. Jiménez portrays the essence of Abram’s grandmother through her physicality, her “voice like a hand smoothing out a bedsheet.” We can gauge the atmosphere in the house by the grandmother’s hands.
Jiménez is a poet, which is evident on almost every page of Bloodline. Abram was so young when his father died that he has very few memories of him. Trying to remember is like “digging far into the memories,” Jiménez writes, “with nothing but the spoon of your want.” Ophelia’s smile “is a valise in which so much is held.” Jiménez’ work is for lovers of language.
On a wall in the hallway of the small house hangs a painting of St. Michael conquering a demon. This painting serves as a metaphor for Abram’s struggle. Is he St. Michael or the demon? Abram is alternately petrified and excited by approaching manhood, aching to know the mystery of his father and his death. Was he a good man? Was he a bad man? Abram is terrified of the answer and what it means for his future. Which is paramount: nature or nurture?
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