Jim's Reviews > Crossers

Crossers by Philip Caputo
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May 06, 10

bookshelves: mundo-hispano, police-and-thieves, historicalish-fiction, fiction
Read from April 29 to May 05, 2010

This book is a combination historical novel-crime thriller-romance (but one that is guy-friendly)-story of personal redemption-philosophical reflection on our times. The thing is, it works.

The protagonist, Gil castle, whose wife died on 9/11, accepts his relatives’ invitation to come to stay at their ranch on the Arizona-Mexico border. While there, he becomes embroiled in the schemes of drug traffickers, the desperate plight of illegal migrants, and a relationship with a woman who is also dealing with a lot of emotional baggage. Ultimately, he must confront the past in order to cope with the present.

Caputo blends together a number of themes to produce a really good novel. In the hands of a lesser writer, some of the themes and seemingly stock characters could border on cliché (the emotionally scarred man going into the wild to salve his spirit, the healing power of love, the gritty frontier ranchers, the vengeful Latin, etc.). Luckily, Caputo is a skilled writer who is excellent at making these elements work. He is an incredibly evocative writer, able to make the reader see the sights and smell the smells.

Throughout the novel, 9/11 cast its shadow. Through the character of Gil Castle, Caputo muses on the ways in which 9/11, borders, immigration, and cross-border crime are related and muses that, ultimately, the 9/11 terrorists and the narcotrafficantes are merely manifestations of the same monster. Caputo tackles issues like the aftermath of 9/11, illegal immigration, drug trafficking, and the troubled relationship between the United States and Mexico – “so far from God, so close to the United States.” In a way, Caputo’s use of familiar themes and character types serves his purpose. These are all difficult issues that get people frothing at the mouth and which we, as a nation, are afraid to confront forthrightly and realistically. By telling an engaging story, he is able to get these concepts past people’s intellectual defenses so that they might engage them in a thoughtful way.

I read this book at the same time that Arizona was passing laws making undocumented residency a state crime. In the midst of all the overheated arguments on both sides of that issue, it was good to read a nuanced approach to the situation. While there are definitely villians aplenty, most of the characters fit in the gray, in-between areas.

This book intertwines history (in the form of Castle's frontier ancestor Ben Erskine) with the present. All of the characters have to deal with the blowback from the deeds of their ancestors. For some, such as the brutal head of a drug cartel or Blaine Erskine, the brooding Vietnam vet who holds to his grandfather’s hard code of honor, history (or the skewed memory-myth based on it) is a constant presence. (One might say the same for the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks. Fanatics are often obsessed with a version of history.) It all made me think that, while we cannot overcome the past, we can learn to live with it.
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