Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Review: Tornado Season by Courtney Craggett


 Courtney Craggett has a special understanding of America’s complicated immigration issue, which at its core refuses to recognize that people south of our border are just people, who like all people, only want a fair shot at life and a better future for their children. Dia De Garcias and Frontera Seca amply illustrate the convoluted logic that determines who are and who are not good citizens, and the reasons why.  But Pledge truly brings the heartbreak front and center when an elementary school teacher is drawn to Alexis, a Mexican boy, and attracted to his father Antonio knowing that the authorities viewed them both as illegals, and also knowing full-well the hurdles that a life with them would entail, but receptive to its possibilities just the same:

That weekend I saw our family, my family.  I saw Antonio and Alexis, Alexis little sister, me, one of them, cooking them breakfast, helping Alexis with his homework, telling Antonio to be careful at work.  This was why I had become a teacher, to belong to someone.  I hadn’t expected it to happen like this, but life could surprise you.

But life intervenes and Alexis doesn’t show up at school the following week or for another weeks’ time.  She goes to their home, but the residents inside will not answer.  Everyone seems to be hiding.  Finally, reality as it so frequently occurs is the southwest, sets in:

“What happened to him?” I asked the secretary.  “Will he be coming back?  Did his father request he move to a different class?”

“He’s gone,’’ she told me. “Deported.

It happens just that fast.  It is just that devastating.  It is just that final.

Another story in this collection portrays an intimate familiarity with societal dysfunction that all too frequently manifests itself on the microscale level as domestic violence.  Goodness and Mercy is a particularly poignant piece about a college educated female social worker who grew up in a household where at age 12 she had to call the police on her father who was perpetually beating up her mother.  They divorce. The father remarries. The mother also remarries to a man who also beats her. Family unity, such as it was, was laid riven, and she often wonders if she did the right thing, if it really made any difference at all?  The social worker rationalizes her very existence, her self-image,  her career, and her purpose in this passage:

I grew up and became a social worker.  It was the only thing that I could become.  There was never any choice.  I specialized in abuse prevention, but the prevention often came too late.  I saw the worst things, things you wouldn’t believe yet still have to.  Things that are too absurd and too horrible to be fiction.  Sometimes I saved lives.  I went home at night knowing that a child would live at least a bit longer because of a decision I’d made.  Other times I made the wrong call, and children who were in my care were hurt, even killed.  That was the nature of being a social worker.  I could have done something easier with my life, but what?  I think I was born to fight.  Besides, terrible things were going to happen to these kids with or without me…but at least this way I could stop it every now and then.

There are a few stories that approach the magical realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  Astromorphosis and Volcano Climber both bridge a gap between reality and fantasy, with the greater good of humanity hanging in the balance, if only the goals of the fantastic can be achieved.

This is primarily a collection of short stories about blurred lines, about those situations where there is no best or simply correct answer, about how one stance taken can set off a sequence of unintended consequences. These are frequently confusing and messy stories – like life on the border; like life itself.

This is a wonderful book, and kudos to Courtney Craggett for not taking the easy way out, for taking on the tough subjects, for challenging her readers to look inward to decide where to draw the line, or to see where lines could never truly be drawn.  She expertly negotiates those gray areas.  She takes on the blurred lines, and embraces them.

 * * * *

Reviewed by John Krieg
John Krieg has written many books. His recent book of five short novellas is entitled Zingers.

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