A short story collection that presents revitalized insights into Texas-Mexico border culture

Mexican American Literature / Short Stories 

The River Runs: Stories 

Thomas Ray Garcia 

Prickly Pear Publishing 

April 3, 2023  

ISBN-13: 978-1889568218, 139 pages 


“That’s the paradox of a rearview mirror. You can always see what you’ve left behind even after it’s gone.”  


The South Texas-Mexico borderlands are both an entanglement and an estrangement of cultures, teeming with life, fear, hope, and humidity. 


The River Runs by Thomas Ray Garcia is a collection of short stories portraying the paradox of cultural division and unity along both sides of the Rio Grande. The river threads through each story, providing a connected habitat of division and renewal. The first story, “The Seventh Man,” sets the overall tone for the entire collection as six boys in Texas, all on the brink of adulthood, run together as a cross-country team in the Rio Grande Valley. To compete, they need a seventh runner, but who? A lone boy crossing the river into Texas simply melts into anonymity and starts running with the six boys. The imagery of this singular act brings to the forefront the question of what exactly separates the people in the borderlands? A river, yes, but what else? When cultures collide and separate and collide again along bordering countries, a wary relationship of humanity is proclaimed, for good or for bad. Some characters never truly fit in or feel safe; others can disappear or hide in plain sight because of their skin color or birthright -- or because they stepped onto Texas soil, shedding the river’s damp, muddy vestige.  


This intriguing collection of short stories is reminiscent of Gloria Anzaldua’s Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. While The River Runs does not contain poetry, the prose is often lyrical and swells with imagery and symbolism. The Rio Grande is more than a separation or natural border; it is an open vein flowing with blood, sweat, tears, and desperation. 


Thomas Ray Garcia expertly captures the reader’s imagination by highlighting the differences and the sameness along the Texas-Mexico border. The people coalesce, often reluctantly, as they live, love, work, and die as migrants, native-born Texans, undocumented immigrants, and children who believe an alien is someone or something from outer space and not from across the big river.  


In a politically charged climate, The River Runs is timely and depicts an important and often heartbreaking view of the discord and mystery along the border. We see human beings from both sides, all with hopes and dreams and who constantly reshape the political, cultural, and racial landscape with their presence, no matter their perceived status or class. 


The overall tone of The River Runs is understandably not always positive. Many people along the border are poor and scared, always peering over their shoulders yet still looking toward a hopefully brighter future. While the book is primarily in English, Spanish is minimally sprinkled across these short stories, adding yet another layer of the inevitable blending that occurs in borderlands. Stories such as these in The River Runs are an excellent opportunity for readers to glimpse lifestyles and plights that differ from their own or perhaps find commonality and affirmation in their struggles. Garcia presents a stunning view of the cultural richness, diversity, and anguish along the Texas-Mexico borderlands by delivering a candid snapshot of what can and often does happen along conflicting boundaries.   


Thomas Ray Garcia is a writer, educator, and entrepreneur from Pharr, Texas. As a student at Princeton University, he won the Ward Mathis Prize for his short fiction on the Texas-Mexico border. He is the author of the short story collection The River Runs: Stories and co-author of El Curso de la Raza: The Education of Aurelio Manuel Montemayor. In 2022, the manuscript for The River Runs won the Américo Paredes Literary Arts Prize for Fiction sponsored by FlowerSong Press from McAllen, Texas and Prickly Pear Publishing from Santa Fe, New Mexico.