The Madonnas of Echo Park

The Madonnas of Echo Park - Brando Skyhorse I found this to be an interesting companion piece to Steinbeck’s Tortilla Flat, which I read earlier this year, but my opinion of this book may have suffered by the comparison. I do enjoy the concept of interrelated stories that create an overall novel-like effect and it has been used to memorable effect by Saroyan (The Human Comedy) and Steinbeck (Tortilla Flat and The Pastures of Heaven).

I will start out by saying that I enjoyed at least half of these stories very much. The Blossoms of Los Feliz, Our Lady of the Lost Angels, Rules of the Road, Yo Soy El Army and The Hustler were quite good. The others I felt tried a bit too hard to force something extraordinary to come out of very ordinary characters and situations, which just didn’t work for me. The obsessions of teenaged girls with pop stars that drive several of the other stories didn’t resonate with me and the last (and in my opinion the weakest) story in the work, La Luz y La Tierra, seemed to be a conscious (and rather long) attempt to gather all of the story lines together when it just wasn’t necessary. In the weaker stories I felt that I was being beaten over the head with the “message” that I was expected to take away.

Tortilla Flat deals with the same ethnic group at a different place in the history of California, yet Steinbeck brings a mythical air and humor to the lives of these characters that is lacking in Skyhorse’s work, which is admittedly more current and gritty, but also more deliberate and lacks the master’s subtle touch. But considering that this is Skyhorse’s first novel the jacket blurb to the effect that we may be witnessing the coming of a top notch new literary talent may well be true. I certainly plan on following this author.