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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 466

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The intricate web of relationships holding together a large Mexican-American clan are at the heart of the novel. The main character, who is throwing a birthday bash while he is at death’s door, expresses this well.

Upsetting the party plan and outraging many family members is the fact of their mother’s death. Miguel Angel must decide what kind of service, if any, to have. Religious differences make this a challenge.

There was no time left for a big Catholic funeral in a big Catholic church. What church could they have picked? Half the family had briefly become Mormons, and some of them were in a UFO-worshipping group awaiting the return of the Anunnaki when Planet X came back into Earth’s orbit. Some of them were evangelicals. Or nothing. Lalo was probably an atheist. Or a sunworshipper. The eldest son of Big Angel’s brother César seemed to think he was a Viking.

The first family members who moved to the United States from Mexico decades earlier had to make their own way, figuring out the language as well as earning a living. One brother, Lalo, remembers those days.

No way of knowing how language re-created a family. His own children didn’t want to learn Spanish, when he had given everything to learn English. The two men at the kitchen table with cigarettes and coffee and used dictionaries. They captured new words and pinned them like butterflies of every hue. “Aardvark,” “bramble,” “challenge,” “defiance.” One called out a word: “Incompatible.” The other had to define it in less than three minutes. Five points per word…. At the end of each month, a carton of Pall Malls was at stake.

Little Angel, who had an American mother and lives in Seattle, flies down for his brother’s party and now for the other mother’s funeral. Driving from the airport in his rental car, he reminisces about his early years when his older half brother would come to his house, where their father lived with his new wife and son, to hang out with him. He knew the boy loved wrestling, and would make a big show of announcing his name like a wrestling champion whenever he entered a room.

Little Angel, somewhere inside himself, felt good when he heard this. He felt witnessed. None of the rest of them had ever paid attention to his boyhood…. His father had made sure they were kept far apart. But Big Angel saw….. He knew what his brother’s Saturday routine was. [Cartoons in the mornings,] followed by wrestling. Big Angel had only taken part in this ritual perhaps three times, but he never forgot it…. Big Angel made Little Angel his research project. He had never seen his own isolation mirrored in the world.