Author: Benjamin Alire Sáenz.
Publisher: Harper Perennial.
In Perfect Light (2005) follows the lives of various characters whose stories intersect. It is a heartbreaking journey of loss, abuse, grief, and emotional pain. A definite tear-jerker!
One of the narratives follows Andrés, a twenty-something man who works in a college department. He is arrested on numerous occasions for battery and drunken behaviour. Throughout the novel he delves into his past and the childhood traumas in El Paso, USA, and across the border in Juarez, Mexico. His therapist, Grace, helps him to engage with his past the guilt he feels with his familial loss, and Dave, his lawyer, desperately tries to instil in him some confidence
Grace herself deals with her own personal struggles, from her personal health to her strained relationship with her son, Mister. As a widow, a lot of her thoughts surround the death of her husband, and how she is still grieving many years later.
Mister’s narrative surrounds his dealings with his mother, who is not as warm towards him as he’d like, and his efforts to adopt a blind boy. His journey of becoming a father is interlaced with his own relationship with his father when he was a child.
The strongest narrative is Andrés’, whose childhood is utterly heartbreaking. From the loss of his parents to the estrangement to his siblings and his own personal trauma, his story is quite powerful and, at times, unbelievable. The violence and abuse in his flashbacks are painful to read and shine a light on the struggles of individuals, particularly children, in Mexico.
The novel deals largely with memory and trauma, as all characters at one time or another deal with their past, and explore how it affects them as adults. Also, as with a lot of Sáenz’s work, he investigates Mexican and Mexican-American identity within the geographical landscapes of the USA and Mexico. He contrasts the lives of Mexican people on both sides of the borders and shows the struggles of working class individuals who can easily go below the radar and disappear into the criminal underworld of drugs, forced prostitution, and organised crime.
Overall, it was a powerful piece that dealt with dark issues. It didn’t hold back from tough subjects, and Sáenz never for a moment hesitates when it comes to shining a light on the injustices surrounding children, women, and working class Mexicans.