Following in the tradition of his first two novels, The Dead Women of Juarez and Tequilla Sunset, Hawken brings another glorious and affecting Mexico influenced novel with La Frontera. Cleverly intertwining three distinct and separate stories, Hawken manages to encompass the essential ills of South American and Mexican life, showing the desperation of those keen to enter America in the search of a better life, those that feed financially on this desperation, and the forces of law and order who seek to thwart their foolhardy attempts at escape.
I can say with no compunction whatsoever that this book was so perfectly constructed that all three strands stood both singly and together as intensely powerful and accomplished pieces of writing. So often in split narrative books there is a story that does not hold the same level of interest in the reader, but Hawken so neatly side-steps this due to his vibrant and empathetic characterisation.
I felt that I really saw beneath the skin of all three protagonists, who all to some degree have their morality and sense of purpose severely tested and questioned as the story develops. Ana is a representative of the law, tracking border crossers, marking the locations of the sinister rape-trees, negotiating with landholders who have little time or sympathy for the border crossers, and proving her strength as a woman in an incredibly male-dominated environment.
Luis is an ex-coyote, now dedicated to providing the essential supplies for potential border crossers, but who quickly discovers that his former life is not so easy to shrug off, which brings him into contact with Marisol, making her way from El Salvador and the inherent dangers this encompasses to get to Mexico on the the brink of reaching the promised land- America. Luis and Marisol’s stories in particular are truly touching, as Hawken affords the right level of sympathy and empathy with both, whatever the rights and wrongs of their actions, previously or now. I was absolutely rooting for Marisol, who shows such a strength and dignity as the story progresses in her single-minded determination to reach her goal, and those she protects along the way, mirrored in the actions of Luis.
I must confess that having read both of Hawken’s previous books, I was not expecting any deviation from the accomplished and gripping style that permeates his writing. I was quite right in this assumption, as La Frontera merely strengthens my admiration for his writing with its perfect rendition of not only location, but the sustained and probing characterisation that underscores a compelling plot. Excellent.