by Oscar Casares
Reviewed by Benjamin Moser
A brambly Latin-American patriarch is the hero of Oscar Casares's Amigoland (Little, Brown $23.99). The ninety-one-year-old Don Fidencio is holed up, miserably, in a nursing home of the book's name in a Texas border town, furiously protesting his confinement -- "He had more trouble with just the idea of being here with these old men and women. He knew he wasn't old like some of them" -- though Casares shows, of course, Don Fidencio needs to be where he is, chronicling in excruciating detail the humiliations that await those who outlive their time.
Don Fidencio is not a very pleasant person, and it is only thanks to his younger brother Celestino's new girlfriend, Socorro, a house cleaner who lives on the other side of the river, that the two old men rekindle something like a relationship, though it never quite becomes warm as they grumble, mumble, and talk past each other, to often brilliant effect:
"You want her to wash your socks?" Don Fidencio said.
"I was only trying to be pleasant."
Don Fidencio is obsessed by the memory of a long-ago Indian raid on his grandfather's village in northern Mexico, which Celestino dismisses as an ancient myth. The dismissal predictably infuriates Fidencio, and the controversy is settled only by Celestino and Socorro's decision to spring Fidencio from Amigoland and embark on a Thelma and Louise-style road trip into Mexico. Their journey involves buses, pharmacies, and walkers in place of Thunderbirds, murders, and sex with Brad Pitt, but Casares's comedy if missed cues and carefully tended rancor makes the revelations at the end of the book, when the geriatric caravan finally pants its way into Fidencio's childhood home, testify all the more eloquently to the strange and unpredictable paths that memory can take.
Benjamin Moser is a contributing editor of Harper's magazine and the author of Why This World.