Brides have their dreams, sinners their secrets, but sometimes it’s not so easy to tell them apart.
In the border town of El Paso—better known to its Mexican American residents as El Chuco—dramas unfold in humdrum households every day as working-class men come home from their jobs and as their wives and children do their best to cope with life. Christine Granados now plumbs the heart of this community in fourteen startling stories, uncovering the dreams and secrets in which ordinary people sometimes lose themselves. Many fictional accounts of barrio life play up tradition and nostalgia; Brides and Sinners in El Chuco is a trip to the darker side. Here are memories of growing up in a place where innocence is always tempered by reality—true-to-life stories, told in authentic language, of young women, from preteens to twenty-somethings, learning to negotiate their way through troubled times and troubled families. In the award-winning story “The Bride,” a young girl recalls her sister as a perennial bride on Halloween, planning for her eventual big day in a pink notebook with lists of potential husbands, only to see her dream thwarted at the junior prom. In another, we meet Bobbi, the class slut, whose D-cup chest astounds the other girls and entices everyone—even those who shouldn’t be tempted.
Granados’ tales boldly portray women’s struggle for solidarity in the face of male abuse, and as these characters come to grips with self-discovery, sibling rivalry, and dysfunctional relationships, she shows what it means for Chicanas to grow up in protective families while learning to survive in the steamy border environment. Brides and Sinners in El Chuco is an uncompromising look at life with all its hard edges—told with enough softness to make readers come back for more.
Each of the crystalline worlds Cary Holladay brings us in the short stories and novella that make up Brides in the Sky has sisterhood, in all its urgency and peril, at its heart. In the title story, two women in 1850s Virginia marry brothers who promptly uproot them to follow the Oregon Trail west, until an unexpected shift of allegiance separates the sisters forever. Elsewhere in the book, a young boy’s kidnapping ignites tensions in a sorority house; frontier figure Cynthia Ann Parker struggles upon her return to her birth community from the Comanche people with whom she’s lived a full life; and in a metafictional twist, a gothic tale resonates in the present. In the novella, “A Thousand Stings,” three sisters come of age in the 1960s over a long summer of small-town scandal and universal stakes. These are just some of the lives, shaped by migrations, yearning, and the long shadows of myth, that Holladay creates. She crafts them with subtle humor, a stunning sense of place, and an unerring eye for character.