Answers from the borders between

Nov. 5, 2014 at 4:30 p.m.

Oscar Casares, as his riveting account in the Texas Monthly explains, was "hecho en Brownsville," near here but refined in Iowa - at the renowned Master of Fine Arts program there. He now teaches creative writing in Austin, where the Longhorns play and the Capitol thrums with the energy of people exercising their democracy and legislating the hybrid experience of life in the southernmost state of our union.

It seems fitting that he serves as the director of the creative writing program at the University of Texas, a place at which hybridity is welcome in the interdisciplinary approaches to the study of writing, as his work showcases the multiplicity of experiences and perspectives integral to the intimate experience of the human condition.

Casares will give a free reading at noon Thursday in the Alcorn Auditorium of UHV University West, 3007 N. Ben Wilson St., as part of the UHV/American Book Review Fall Reading Series.

His two highly acclaimed collections of fiction are titled, simply, "Brownsville" and "Amigoland," but their tales move beyond the simple dynamics of nomenclature or geography into the harrowing heart of what connects us and detaches us from one another - the battle between self and other that dictates identity politics and family feuds, alike. In "Brownsville," each story is named for the character whose narrative propels it. Three sections make up the book, and three characters' stories populate each section. The result is a balanced narrative structure that asks the reader to question what frameworks make up our own understanding of our lives, the communities in which we live them and the ideas that community exchanges with the world.

In "Amigoland," a narrative of two brothers seeking to ameliorate the discord between themselves bridges their adventure across national borders by linking imagery that resonates with the shifting visual landscape of movement across space, as well as repetitions and dialogue that function as refrains of memory. A consistent advocacy of connection built into Casares' prose style in this debut novel reminds us of connection, reminds us that there is a before and after in every journey, a self that existed before each step and a self that will exist beyond that step, and that people on the outside of the journey might not witness the gravity of those beginnings and ends. To that end, we must listen to the sounds between those steps.

In fact, his two collections braid notions of community and family together, into a fusion awaiting some inquisitive separation by the power of a decapitated monkey's head - as in "Chango," or the melodrama of the body that enlivens the mundane - as in "Yolanda," some scrutiny that we might later turn inward upon ourselves and whatever communities we otherwise occupy in order to discover those same elements of multiplicity in our realities, as well. At the thresholds, we wonder what world bears us into our names and what currency binds us to the world. In Casares' prose, we find answers to these questions - at least as well as answers at the border between ideologies can provide, as borders show both sides of the line that divides brother from brother, vecino from vecino, and the personal from the public.

At the borders of life and death, hope and memory, love and letting go, the finer details of all things become vaguely beautiful in their decay and in their persistence. If identity can ever be a thing distinct from another, it will be found at the borders between understanding. This, too, we understand from the world of Casares' fiction.

Saba Razvi is an assistant professor of English in the University of Houston-Victoria School of Arts and Sciences. She may be contacted at razvis@uhv.edu.


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