In his first foray into short fiction, award-winning poet and memoirist Jimmy Santiago Baca maps the territory where old-world traditions contend with new-world ambitions and disenfranchised characters struggle to make something of themselves in the world while somehow keeping their souls intact. In the title story, two siblings must face the brother who has betrayed them by selling his share of the family land and forsaking a centuries-old land grant, leaving an entire community vulnerable. In "The Three Sons of Julia," a long-suffering mother whose one request is that all her sons come home to the barrio for the Fourth of July watches her dream shatter as two of her sons - one a successful businessman with a white wife and the other a hard-drinking ex-con - nearly destroy her house, and each other, by the night's end. In "Runaway," a young orphan discovers the consolations of fraternity when he is forced to care for a boy whose circumstances are even more dire than his own. Merging a refreshing innocence with a profound understanding of the world's brutality, The Importance of a Piece of Paper is a daring and arresting work that is at once fearless, tender, and inspiring.
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The rural Southwest landscape of Baca's short stories is inhabited by outsiders: drug addicts and convicts, absentee mothers and runaways. Baca's first collection of fiction (he is the author of the memoir A Place to Stand and several books of poetry) paints a picture of Chicano life that is at once cruel and sweetly redemptive. In the best of these eight stories, gritty realism is deftly leavened by flights of lyricism. In "Enemies," a trio of newly released convicts find their hostilities giving way to fear and tenderness; in "Valentine's Day Card," an orphan becomes engrossed in a fantasy that his mother will come for a visit. Other stories are allegorical and softer around the edges. In the fairy tale-like "Matilda's Garden," an elderly farmer mourns the death of his beloved wife by working the land she cultivated. In the title story, the couple's three children-a lawyer, a cowboy and a former graduate student-fight over the farm they have inherited. Baca's characters are occasionally mired in overworked prose ("These were the absurd dreams of the foolish young boys they had been, dreams that were now eaten away like apple cores thrown out of a window for the crows of dawn to peck to pulp") and formulaic situations. Still, Baca has the ability to convey much in few words, and his precise use of detail delivers small, startling truths.
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Baca is known for his poetry and memoir, A Place to Stand (2001), and his short fiction seems like second nature although this is his first short story collection. He writes poignantly about the sacrifices of mothers, the disappointments of family, and the heartbreaking losses of life, and is somehow able to merge life's wear-and-tear quality with its power to transform. Sometimes there's a strange weaving of the magical with the real, sometimes Baca's tales are brutal or realistically bitter, and they are often about deliverance. He sensitively portrays the troubling tension between Chicanos who want to rise above their upbringings, but turn, instead, to superficial obsessions with status and money, and those who fall into the trap of "victimness," and turn to violence, drugs, and destructive thinking. Baca has the potent ability to depict truths behind stereotypes, and speaks up for those who often have no voice. Surely this insightful collection will make people listen. Janet St. John
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Book Description Grove Press, 2004. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # DADAX0802117651
Book Description Grove Press, 2004. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # 0802117651
Book Description Grove Press, 2004. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. New item. Bookseller Inventory # QX-053-15-8640808