Reviewed by Piet Bach
Taxi Rojo, by Erik Orrantia, 2012, 210 pp.
Cheyenne Publishing http://www.cheyennepublishing.com
ISBN: 978-1-937692-12-4 – Print: $13.99
ISBN: 978-1-937692-13-1 – eBook: $6.99
The springboard for Erik Orrantia’s fourth novel is an automobile accident in Tijuana, the Mexican city that mirrors, and in many respects serves, San Diego, its neighbor on the U. S. side of the border. The taxis rojos are like a six-seat version of the jitneys that used to run the length of San Francisco’s Mission Street – they wait at their pick-up spot until they fill before setting off on long trips to the outlying parts of town not served by local transportation. The taxi in the title is headed for Playas de Tijuana, a residential area near the Gulf of California inhabited mostly by working-class families, when it plunges off the road and down a cliff, throwing its half-dozen passengers together literally as well as figuratively.
Orrantia’s gift for the telling detail, his psychological perceptiveness, and the subtle precision of his language all serve to bind the stories of the survivors as they rebuild their lives in ones and twos. Rigo and Cristian discover new ways to live as a couple; Pancha finds both her voice and a new life; Julia discovers not only a strength she hadn’t known she had but that her strength has not gone unnoticed by those around her (and one in particular). We’re taken into the worlds of poor drag queens and comfortable university graduates, illegal daily maids and striving small business owners, and meet men comfortable in their gay lives as well as men uncomfortable in gay-for-pay lives.
While the author’s previous novel, The Equinox Convergence, was alternately harsh and poetic, the current work is gritty but sweet, like pan dulce, with a clarity of scene that serves the reader well as the characters’ lives braid together strand by strand. I found myself seeing the story in black and white, with an occasional jolt of color heightening the scene – the dull red of an old dress, the bright blue of cheap interior paint, the yellow of the wall around a gated community. I would also say, though, that where his last work had a feeling of inevitability about it, as though the story were unfolding on its own terms, the current novel seems to have been consciously planned to arrive at its final scene. That does not diminish the pleasure of an engrossing, skillfully written tale with characters whose struggles and personal victories crowd the heart like the seats in a taxi rojo. Readers, buy this book.