If I didn’t know that Belken County was a fictional place before opening up this book, I would have been looking to make a trip to it after I was done. Mr. Hinojosa brought to life this place with such unapologetic reality. Trying to sum up his work would make it sound dull because it’s really just an examination of everyday life, but it’s so much more than that. Its layers of culture, history, and small town politics embedded into this story. I walked away from it feeling like I could p go up to a stranger and make them actually believe I was from Belken County. That was the depth of the richness that the author gave us.
Once in college while discussing Faulkner, one of my professors pointed out how so often writers are hated in their hometowns. At the time, I was going to college in Columbus, Georgia and that city happened to be the source of what the great Carson McCullers drew from. And true enough, she was reviled by the older generation in Columbus. I always felt it was because she exposed ugly truths, but not in the way that an activist or journalist might. They were exposed through the art of a timeless story and I think that sticks more in people’s craw than anything else. The fact that this story won’t ever really go away.
I can’t help but to wonder if it is the same for Hinojosa and it was a thought that stuck in the back of my mind throughout my reading of the entire book. My imagination couldn’t help but to wander and wonder if people he knew felt a certain character was inspired by them. Did they become mad? Did they tell everyone or did they keep it secret out of embarrassment? Was the book passed around as gossip? It’s not a fate I would wish on any writer because it is a hard thing to be hated by a place you love. But at the same time, it puts Hinojosa in the company of Faulkner and McCullers. I suppose any writer can tolerate a few jeers for that.
Someone who doesn’t understand the art of the writer might walk away from this story thinking that Hinojosa hates whatever inspired Belken County. That is a superficial reading of the story and misses the greater depth of it. When a writer tells a story as honestly as Hinojosa has here it has nothing to do with hate or negativity. That is a work of love to breathe life into every facet of existence from the mundane to the difficult to even the beautiful.
What about the story moved me the most? I think it was the older veterans who had survived so much and decided to make their homes in Belken. Being a military brat, I have seen older men of war gather around to tell their tales and watch the world in that way only they can. The Old Revolutionaries struck me as a treasure that not everyone around them realized they had. But isn’t that always how it goes with our elderly. We so often view them as old vessels and not the bridge to the past that they really are. Their tales stuck me and I imagine will always have some part of them in me.
The story of the Cordero Family stuck with me too but for a different reason. Hinojosa broke my heart while spinning out their life. These people seemed so good and really seemed to be just trying to get by but one horrible thing after another lumped themselves on the family. I imagine that is how it is for many people, but no less tragic to watch unfold on the page. The entire time I kept hoping and wishing for something good to happen to these people. For some kind of miracle to come their way and it never came. A hard lesson in the unfair cruelties of life.
That’s what this book really is at the end of the day. It’s a hard lesson in how the world works and why life can be so damn unfair. But don’t let you scare that away because Hinojosa serves this lesson to you in beautiful fashion.