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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.
Paul Pedroza was born and raised in El Paso, Texas. He received his BA in creative writing and mass communication from the University of Texas at El Paso and his MFA in fiction from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His story collection The Dead Will Rise and Save Us is available from Veliz Books. Currently he teaches in the English Department of New Mexico State University, and he is completing his first novel.
His work has appeared in Rattle, MAKE: A Chicago Literary Magazine, Palabra, BorderSenses, Confluencia, Inquiring Mind Buddhist Magazine, and in the anthologies Our Lost Border (Arte Público Press, 2013), New Border Voices (TAMU Press, 2014), and Mezcla 2 (Tumblewords, 2013).
The Dead Will Rise and Save Us: Stories by Paul Pedroza
Paperback, 978-0-9969134-0-9, 216 pgs., $16.95
Themes of boundaries, loneliness, identity, opportunity, and responsibility permeate this collection of contemporary short fiction set in and around El Paso, Texas. Paul Pedroza possesses a versatile voice, able to create a diverse cast of compelling narratives: young and old, male and female, Anglo, Mexican, and Mexican-American, immigrants and residents, and a variety of socioeconomic classes, even the dead—the encobijados, dead bodies wrapped in blankets and dumped by narcotraficantes. Pedroza is also equally at home with a variety of styles, from slice-of-life to the fantastical.
The Dead Will Rise and Save Us: Stories by Paul Pedroza is Pedroza’s debut collection, although a handful of these stories have appeared previously in publications such as New Border Voices (Texas A&M University Press, 2014) and MAKE: A Chicago Magazine, Issue 12 (Winter 2012).
“Subtle Shades of Green,” the first story, is a standout. Robert, whose mother is Anglo and father was Mexican, attends Bowie High School in El Paso, lives in the barrio, and gets into trouble, inadvertently worsening the situation, when he tries to stand up for his darker-skinned friends who are hassled by the Border Patrol during a pickup basketball game. When his friends subsequently abandon him, Robert feels the “constituent parts inside [him] beginning to pull away from one another, creating boundaries not unlike the one marked by fence and river.”
In “The Way Things Are,” Pedroza tells the story of Emmy and Steven at a party celebrating her college graduation. Steven is a carpenter and has an opportunity to move to Phoenix, where building is booming; Emmy has been accepted to graduate school in South Carolina. Neither has told the other of their news, and Pedroza’s story is fraught with the tensions of class, expectation, misunderstanding, and love’s struggle to overcome. “Your problem is, you’ve got an educated woman on your hands,” Emmy’s uncle tells Steven, “and that means you ain’t going to have much to say, my friend.” Pedroza relates this story seamlessly from both Emmy’s and Steven’s first-person points of view.
Other standouts are a series of linked stories populated by the homeless community in downtown El Paso, in which a character named Peter (who watches the heavens after nightfall and “the few stars peeking through man’s progress”) tries to make new connections and retain the old ones, both yearning for and avoiding fellowship, as he wanders the streets, interacting with other denizens like him, as well as shopkeepers, baristas, and a street preacher (who can “talk the ghost right into you, then talk it right back out. He don’t know when to stop”). It is a complicated calculus of relationships and expectations, skillfully managed.
Pedroza is a promising new voice in Texas letters, reminding me of Dagoberto Gilb, who wrote in El Paso twenty years ago. A couple of the stories in The Dead Will Rise and Save Us are a little rough around the edges and left me bewildered, but Pedroza has a full vision and much potential.
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