A Summer Life

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Soto’s freshly scrubbed recollections range from a five-year-old’s intoxicating sense of freedom as he discovers the forbidden world of the next street over, to a seventeen-year-old’s terrifying sense of uncertainty as he goes off to face the Vietnam War. In between, crisp, densely textured vignettes convey all of the dangers, victories, confusions, heartbreaks, and wonders of youth. Soto is first of all a poet of the senses, and nothing escapes his memory’s reach: the smell of cork inside a pop bottle cap; the taste of Kool Aid ice cubes or of avocados crushed and salted and laced with a river of chilis; the sight of fuzzy peaches and branch-bruised plums, of alleys clogged with wet and swollen magazines; the feel of July heat that turns railroad tracks into hazy, dancing lines and asphalt into turgid black rivers.

Soto re-creates a landscape dominated by the Sun Maid Raisin tower and the Coleman Pickle factory, by junkyards and warehouses, railroad tracks and dusty highways, and he plants within it a family oasis of plum and almond trees, of oranges, lemons, avocados, grapes, and palms. His pink stucco house, with its green lawn and roses, defies the surrounding industrial desert and provides a stable center for the young boy. And at that center is an extended family as sharply rendered as everything else in this book: his Mexican grandfather, a thirty- year employee of Sun Maid Raisin who keeps his money taped behind the calendar of an Aztec...

(The entire section is 492 words.)