Saturday, April 13, 2013

Taxi Rojo, A Tijuana Tale by Erik Orrantia

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Cheyenne Publishing
Pages: 210

Lambda Award winning author Erik Orrantia delivers a unique study of overcoming adversities set in the teeming south-of-the-boarder city of Tijuana. Caught in the vortex of two million souls struggling for a better life, fate brings six people together in the back of a taxi rojo. The taxi crashes down a canyon, killing two and connecting the survivors in ways that will dramatically affect each of their lives.

The story follows the lives and hardships of Pancha, a drag queen looking for love while performing at the El Taurino bar; Rigo and Cristian, gay partners in a loving but open relationship in a city where HIV is rampant; Toni, the handsome bi man who uses his looks to dominate others; Derek, the young hustler out to steal whatever he can from whoever he can; and Julia, who works as a domestic for an American family across the boarder in order to support her daughter and disabled sister. The more they battle to put the crash behind them, the more it brings them together.

This is a story of unheroic people struggling to overcome everyday problems. It takes a studied look at important social issues like fidelity, wrestling with identity, self-sacrifice, and finding love where you least expect it. Orrantia skillfully weaves these commonplace lives together in a way that showcases these important and interesting issues. In his capable hands, these characters become real. The reader feels their heartache and their joy. The characters and problems seem so common, that they touch something deep in the reader, because we all at one time or another battle with these same burdens.

The one character I’ve yet to mention is the city of Tijuana. Orrantia has a gift for drawing the reader into the setting. You feel the grittiness of the town, smell the corn tortillas on the grill, hear the arrogant laughter of macho men, and feel the danger of walking the streets at night. The descriptions are vivid and real.

Because these characters seem so ordinary, it took a long time to warm up to them. The story moves along on a low flame for much of the book, drawing the reader in gradually. When the pot finally boils over, the reader realizes how far the story had progressed, without seeming to move at all.

Coincidence, I feel, plays too big a role in resolving the characters' problems. I would like to have seen more planned action from the protagonists in working through their issues. That aside, I can recommend this entertaining story. 

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