Last Wednesday night I went to Dallas’ flagship Barnes and Noble to hearOscar Casares read from his just released book Amigoland and to get a copy signed. Everywhere I go, I get there way too early, and having gone to several signings at this particular Barnes and Noble recently, I was a little disappointed when I saw the paltry number of chairs set up for Mr. Casares. I figured there would be many more people coming to hear this native Texan author read from his first novel. And I was right. By the time Mr. Casares arrived, dozens of more chairs had been added and there were many people standing in the back to listen!
Before he began reading, Mr. Casares asked that we close our books and not follow along, but that we just listen. Also, he wanted to say that one of his friends and fellow writers, Ben Fountain, was in attendance. He also acknowledged that one of his other friends, Audrey Slate, former director of the Dobie Paisano Fellowship Program was present as well. Mr. Casares then recognized that his now deceased father had a major presence in the book and whenever he read from the book. Mr. Casares read from various parts of his new novel, but you really could not tell how he had skipped around a bit unless you had read parts of the book already. I immensely enjoy hearing an author read their own material. Mr. Casares cadence was slow and deliberate and he changed his voice according to the character or as narrator. Of course, watching and listening to Mr. Casares read is a pleasant experience, as he is tall, dark, and handsome. He must be 6 feet 5 inches and is very debonair. After reading, Mr. Casares left the lecturn to walk around and answer questions.
Some of the questions concerned his father, his father’s job (USDA river rider in Brownsville, TX), seeing characters from many angles (empathizing), more books being written (yes), telling the character’s life story (not really), and if Mr. Casares read much or wrote as a kid. The answer to the last question was no, but that he listened to his dad and his uncle and other family members talk and tell stories and he absorbed it all like a sponge.
From the author’s website:
In a small town on the Mexican border live two brothers, Don Fidencio and Don Celestino. Stubborn and independent, they now must face the facts: they are old, and they have let a family argument stand between them for too long. Don Celestino’s good-natured housekeeper encourages him to make amends—while he still can. They secretly liberate Don Fidencio from his nursing home and travel into Mexico to solve the mystery at the heart of their dispute: the family legend of their grandfather’s kidnapping. As the unlikely trio travels, the brothers learn it’s never too late for a new beginning.
The character of Don Celestino also gives a unique perspective on what it is like to be aging with a debilitating disease like diabetes. He is a widower whose wife died after 50-plus years of marriage. After he is alone a while he and his housekeeper, Socorro, from across the border, develop a relationship. Socorro is 30 years younger than Don Celestino. Socorro is taking care of her aging mother on the other side of the Rio Grande. Socorro and Don Celestino both worry about how their relationship will affect each other and their respective families.
I really enjoyed reading Amigoland and hope Mr. Casares will write more books and share more stories of what it was like to grow up and live in a Texas border town as the son of someone who has many relatives. Having gone to many book signings in recent months, I have to say Mr. Casares wins the prize for best signing (literally)!