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In a typical game of skelly, two children flick homemade plastic pucks into ed squares drawn on the asphalt.

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We pass the Lopez Supermarket, the housing project where his first girlfriend lived, the community clinic where sick people spend entire afternoons in waiting rooms.

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But no park. In the city cleared the playground and replaced it with a row of concrete pillars that now extend U. But as we abandon pavement and explore patchy dirt tracks, with the beams of free trade floating above us, all we encounter are dead ends.

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Frank Dobie, fourteen miles southwest of Austin. Casares writes about the lives of characters who are mostly working-class and ethnic in a way that makes them neither victims nor heroes nor martyrs, that acknowledges their social difference only as background material and recreates their world from the inside out—so that the margins become the mainstream. While many local youths commiserate about being stuck in a city that seems to march a step behind the rest of the country, in Brownsville Casares captures the magic—and the normalcy—of having been raised in an American city where nine out of ten residents have Mexican roots.

A Brownsville of electricians, receptionists, livestock inspectors, police sergeants, and Avon saleswomen.

On the brink in brownsville

As a young adult, he disses college and takes some badly paying job as he begins experimenting with words and paper. He continues this for any of years, but when he finally musters up the courage, after God knows how many sleepless nights, to send off his stories for publication, he receives the first of what will become a growing pile of rejections.

Finally, when hope is nearly lost, some wise agent in New York decides to give him a break, and a door into the literary scene is opened. In fact, he watched TV obsessively. After spending two years at the local community college, he transferred to a very respectable school—the University of Texas at Austin—and earned a very respectable degree, in advertising.

Yes, stories.

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And in less than two years, two of them had been published. Within a couple of years, he was weighing offers from two major New York publishing houses. Only they had far more experience. I was on the fringes, and every now and then somebody would throw me a bone.

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For the first time in his life, Casares missed Brownsville. So much so that at the bar, he began telling his friends stories about his hometown—and it turned out that his friends loved them.

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Casares recalls the time his entire family sat in a hospital waiting room and a nurse walked in to notify another family that their father had died. The teenage son of the dead man began to cry. His relatives roared.

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At that moment, Oscar turned to look at the boy who had just lost his dad—and the kid was smiling. Oral storytelling is a strong tradition in South Texas, where, for a long time, literacy and a formal education were inaccessible to many people.

These guys knew how to tell a good story. Without any formal training, they intuitively knew that they should begin their s with an exposition and slowly build up tension. They saw real-life people as characters in their own mini-dramas and found stories where others would miss them. Casares was partly inspired to write this piece because his father worked as a funeral home greeter after he retired.

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To research the story, the author went to a local funeral home and played a potential client interested in purchasing caskets and burial plots for himself and his wife. Several of the stories in Brownsville revolve around everyday dramas, showing how inificant events matter to us and even change our lives. One night he decides to reconcile with God. And it is up there—in the precariousness of an unsteady tree branch and the beauty of a starry night—that his emotional burden is finally lifted. The story closes with the most breathtaking passage in the book:.

When he opened his eyes, he gazed out toward the horizon, farther than he ever imagined he could. Casares is, above all, a storyteller. Casares is hardly the first writer to find beauty and literary value in the idiosyncratic culture of the border region.

Bard of the border

Writers along the Texas-Mexico border have produced important works of fiction in English since the twenties and thirties. Many of their works have played an important role as political instruments, aimed at raising social consciousness and documenting cultural conflict between Anglos and Mexican Americans.

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Certain themes are prominent: labor exploitation, urban ghettoization, the cultural homeland. Casares, on the contrary, had the luxury of growing up in an era after the decades of border conflict that followed the U. In his stories he passes on this option to the reader. While his characters are glaringly different from the average Texan in a cultural sense, there is something about their experiences that resonates broadly.

This is the mainstream. We are the mainstream in Brownsville.

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I think we need the literature that is considered activist. He will be spending the next several months on the road; plans for his book tour include stops all over Texas, Iowa City, and New York. Today Casares spends his mornings in front of a Macintosh plucking out his first novel, scheduled for release in October I ask if he will reveal the basic storyline or at least one tiny character.

But he smiles broadly and remains mum, though he does admit this: Prepare yourself for another trip to Brownsville.