"Sentimental and ferocious, upsetting and tender, firmly magic-realist yet utterly modern. . . Sáenz is a writer with greatness in him." —San Diego Union Tribune
With Carry Me Like Water, Benjamin Alire Sáenz unfolds a beautiful story about hope and forgiveness, unexpected reunions, an expanded definition of family, and, ultimately, what happens when the disparate worlds of pain and privilege collide.
Diego, a deaf-mute, is barely surviving on the border in El Paso, Texas. Diego's sister, Helen, who lives with her husband in the posh suburbs of San Francisco, long ago abandoned both her brother and her El Paso roots. Helen's best friend, Lizzie, a nurse in an AIDS ward, begins to uncover her own buried past after a mystical encounter with a patient.
This immensely moving novel confronts divisions of race, gender, and class, fusing together the stories of people who come to recognize one another from former lives they didn't know existed— or that they tried to forget.
The river metaphor courses everywhere through this first novel by the author of the American Book Award-winning poetry collection Calendar of Dust. It's evident in the spate of words that gushes from every character, including deaf-mute Chicano Diego, who muses in dolorous torrents as he writes his life work, a suicide letter. There are characters, themes and plot elements enough for three books, let alone one, and the resultant cascade comes perilously close to overflowing the banks of potboilerdom. In El Paso, Diego misses his long-lost sister Maria Elena (aka Helen), who can't believe she deserves to be living the good life in Palo Alto, married to Eddie, a secret millionaire who misses his long-lost big brother, Jacob. Helen's nurse friend Lizzie inherits her long-lost twin brother's gift of astral travel and second sight, discovers her Mexican roots and feels mysteriously drawn to Jacob (who misses Eddie) while nursing his dying Chicano lover, who comes from El Paso. Although there are flashes of lyricism, the flood of repetitive verbiage quickly palls. Only after almost half of the characters die do the survivors reunite in El Paso. Readers who enjoy a long, involved narrative with ethnic detail may find this a good summer read. Major ad/promo; author tour.