Monday, March 06, 2017

Too Late for Normal: The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Saenz

I have a memory that is almost like a dream; the yellow leaves from Mima's mulberry tree are floating downs like giant snowflakes. Mima is raking, singing something in Spanish. I bathe in waters of those leaves.

I pick up a few leaves and hand them to her with my five-year-old hands. She takes the fragile leaves and kisses them.

I have never been this happy.

Now that golden time seems far away. Sal is seventeen, a senior in high school, and things are changing too fast. His grandmother, Mima, is slowly dying of cancer. Sal is suddenly filled with new, raw emotions and he finds himself on the winning side of two fistfights in the first week of school, the first because a bully calls his stepfather a faggot and the second to rescue Fito, a homeless, always hungry classmate who comes to school when he is between three jobs.

Sal's father gives him a sealed letter from his mother, written a few weeks before she died when he was three, but the courage to open and read it won't come. Sal can't get his thoughts together to finish his college applications. Mima's last Thanksgiving comes and goes, and Sal feels her coming death like an open wound in his heart.

And still, stuff happens.

His best friend Samantha's mother dies in a needless car accident, and she moves in with Sal and his father to finish her senior year. His stepfather's former love, Marcos, returns to town, and finally Fito moves in with them, too.

Sal wishes he could go back in time, or that he could make time stop, take off a year and maybe figure everything out. It's all coming at him too fast.

Sam leaned over and kissed me on the forehead. "Maybe it's not such a bad thing that you're going though a crisis," she said.

Fito's life was complicated, with a capital C. I guess all our lives were complicated. Even mine. Sam's mother was dead. Fito didn't have a place of his own. Mima was dying, and everything was changing.

I felt as if I needed to do something to fix everything that was wrong with all the people I loved. But I couldn't fix anything. Not a damn thing.

"I've decided I'm going for normal," I told Sam.

"Too late for that, Sally," she said.

And then Mima dies.

In Benjamin Alire Saenz' forthcoming The Inexplicable Logic of My Life (Houghton Mifflin Clarion, 2017), Sal manages to turn that corner in life with a knowledge that the love of family and friends will go with him into his future. Writing in brief, first-person, stream-of-consciousness chapters, the award-winning author sets this universal coming-of-age story in a definite time and place, and, and in the broadest sense, within members an uncommon family, each of whom share changes in their own lives. Saenz writes lyrically, yet colloquially, in the words and text messages of his main characters, with the voice of a particularly thoughtful and compassionate boy on the verge of finding his own manhood. Life is complicated, its logic inexplicable, except that, sometimes, with a little luck, with the love of those around us and those who have gone before, we don't have to face it alone.

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