O's 2010 Summer Reading List

Lush historical novels, wise contemporary tales, thrillers that will scare the dickens out of you. (And speaking of Dickens, we've got him, too.)
The Madonnas of Echo Park

The Madonnas of Echo Park

199 pages; Free Press
Culture, identity, and politics are just a few of the threads masterfully woven through the partly autobiographical novel of linked stories that is The Madonnas of Echo Park. Author Brando Skyhorse—so named because his mother revered the famous actor—grew up in the largely Mexican-American L.A. neighborhood of the title, which explains his understanding of its residents: among them a gang member, a day laborer, and a little girl tragically in the wrong place at the wrong time. Far from stock, Skyhorse's characters also include an iconoclastic bus driver who considers himself more American than Mexican and rails against newcomers, illegal or no, and a maid who has one complex relationship with her gringa employer. ("When men want relief they hire a whore," she observes. "When women want relief they hire a cleaning lady.") What happens to a neighborhood that's overrun by gentrification and warring intracultural factions? Violence, for one thing—but also, finally, in Skyhorse's indelible storytelling, something that begins to look like hope.
— Sara Nelson