South Texas Tales by Patricia Cisneros Young

South Texas Tales: Stories My Father Told Me by Patricia Cisneros Young is a slim volume of short stories, taken in part from the stories the author grew up with. It’s a quick and easy read, and an enjoyable one.

These simple and simply told stories read almost like fables; they reminded me of the Coyote Native American stories I read as a child. These stories aren’t just for children, though. The writing style is sparse and straightforward, but these vignettes evoke a time and a place.

Issues addressed include race and racism, marriage and spousal abuse, religion and faith, and even suicide; many stories are about family, love, or the value of hard work. But all of these themes are understated. The stories are quietly powerful but always unpretentious. I enjoyed the minimalist, unfussy style very much; it’s rather palate-cleansing. There’s nothing fancy here, but the stories have value despite being… spare.

Just to give you a quick sampling:

Shibboleth is a story about the Masons acting ruthlessly for their own benefit, and feeling the wrath of the community in turn. The characters are drawn quickly and in broad strokes but it’s enough to feel the pride of the Hinojosas, and to respect Don Manuel’s speaking out, even if it’s too late.

Blood Moon Lullaby is heartbreaking but, I fear, all too true and common a tale.

The Courtship of Red Collins is a bit clumsy but also an awfully realistic-feeling portrayal of small town society and racism, with a surprising turn at the end. Unrealistic? Perhaps. But in that these tales read like fables, I can appreciate the moral.

A Good Day for Dying is a wise choice to finish the collection, because I found it to be the most powerful story of them all. I appreciated Don Sebastian and would like to sit under the mesquite tree with him, myself. It begins:

The old man was tired. Life had given him his fair share of trials and woes and now Sebastian, after surveying his vast estate, decided that the time had come for him to die. The bed that he crept out of had been imported from Paris and brought out to his ranch by mule train. It had been a surprise gift for Sara, the woman who had shared it with him for forty-eight years. He missed her warmth.

These unadorned, down-to-earth stories were remarkably powerful, and I think them a fine accomplishment for such a modest little book. I’m glad I stumbled across them.

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