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Bloodline by Joe Jiménez


by Joe Jiménez

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Abraham has been raised by his grandmother after his father died and his mother left. Now at age 17, "Abram" struggles with what it means to become a man and what his future might hold. His volatile uncle appears to be the only man that Abram has for a male role model but Abram is cautiously aware of what impetuous Uncle Claudio can offer him. Sweet, gentle Ophelia is the one person that brings Abram comfort and hope in his perturbed state. The prose is highly poetic and introspective, and there's a pall hanging over all that warns of the doom to come. For me, the story so roiled with metaphors and similes it drove me crazy. Sometimes it's enough to just say it straight; less can be more. A sampling of the most annoying and odd: The floor is a ghost; its echoes swallow your ankles and feet. The word that covers the mind in its milk.... Its redness rises up like a hurt only another sun might be able to understand. Disbelief peppers your mouth. [The idea] stirs inside your brain like a long metal rod, the kind used for swirling cement in a bucket....In the bald commentator's hand, the microphone shimmers, waxy and undeterred...Her mouth halved like an apple. The words pop off the whiteboard like insect parts...The library table bends light. Ophelia's eyes light themselves up, as if a tiny machine inside of them suddenly, fondly and fiercely, has summoned up courage. Ughhh. ( )
  Salsabrarian | Mar 2, 2017 |
Joe Jiménez
Piñata Books (an imprint of Arte Público Press)
Paperback, 978-1-55885-828-2, 132 pgs., $11.95
May 30, 2016

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? —Mary Oliver

Abram is seventeen, living with his grandmother in San Antonio. His father died when he was three years old — no one will tell him how or why — and his devastated and overwhelmed mother left soon after. Abram has had four fights and two suspensions this school year, and it’s not yet Thanksgiving. His grandmother is distraught; she worries that Abram needs a man to model male adulthood for him, that her example, love, and care cannot suffice. She lost Abram’s father; she will not lose him, too. Enter Tío Claudio, bombastic, volatile, manipulative, and avaricious.

Bloodline is the debut novel from Joe Jiménez. This slim volume of young adult fiction is rich in emotion and language, diving deep into the perilous psychological territory of violence, harboring a final plot twist that caused me to fall silent and still.

The plot of Bloodline is simple, the pace steady. Jiménez employs a second-person point of view for Abram’s narrative, for reasons that aren’t clear until near the end of the story. It’s a difficult narrative mode, but elegant and haunting in this writer’s hand. The characters are relatable and complex — notably Abram and his girlfriend, the smart, red-headed Ophelia — and allowed a good deal of further development. Jiménez portrays the essence of Abram’s grandmother through her physicality, her “voice like a hand smoothing out a bedsheet.” We can gauge the atmosphere in the house by the grandmother’s hands.

Jiménez is a poet, which is evident on almost every page of Bloodline. Abram was so young when his father died that he has very few memories of him. Trying to remember is like “digging far into the memories,” Jiménez writes, “with nothing but the spoon of your want.” Ophelia’s smile “is a valise in which so much is held.” Jiménez’ work is for lovers of language.

On a wall in the hallway of the small house hangs a painting of St. Michael conquering a demon. This painting serves as a metaphor for Abram’s struggle. Is he St. Michael or the demon? Abram is alternately petrified and excited by approaching manhood, aching to know the mystery of his father and his death. Was he a good man? Was he a bad man? Abram is terrified of the answer and what it means for his future. Which is paramount: nature or nurture?

Originally published in Lone Star Literary Life. ( )
  TexasBookLover | Sep 26, 2016 |
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