Sunday, December 26, 2010

Book Review: "The Madonnas of Echo Park" by Brando Skyhorse

Echo Park, the Los Angeles neighborhood down the hill from Chavez Ravine, is the setting for Brando Skyhorse's interconnected story collection, The Madonnas of Echo Park. (I think Brando Skyhorse may be one of the coolest names I've ever heard for an author.)

The characters in Skyhorse's stories are Mexican-Americans of varying ages who are trying to fit in with or rebel against their culture and their neighborhood. Many of the characters are the types of people we pass by every day—cleaning women, bus drivers, day laborers, ex-convicts and teenagers—but Skyhorse brings each to life by wrapping us up in their stories. There's Felicia, who finds herself cleaning house for a family more damaged than she bargained for; Angie, who is reminiscing about her life-changing, fractious relationship with her teenage best friend; Efren, a bus driver who has always prided himself on his staunch devotion to rules and regulations, until one night; Hector, a migrant worker who is forced into covering up a murder; and many others.

Some of the stories in this collection truly moved me, some intrigued me and all but one compelled me to keep reading. Skyhorse created some complicated, multi-layered characters; even when they fall closer to stereotypes, I still found myself invested in what was happening to them. I never felt as if the way he connected the stories was too forced; at times, when I recognized the connections I was even a bit surprised (and even awed, once or twice). I look forward to seeing what comes next in his career, and I definitely recommend this book if you enjoy short stories.

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