One of the significant advantages of self-publishing is that the author has the freedom to write the book that he or she wishes, rather than conforming to a formula that a publisher (rightly or wrongly) has decided the marketplace will buy. Felipe Adan Lerma has taken advantage of this freedom to craft a fast-paced novella that explores current social issues and juxtaposes the vulnerability of innocents to those who have suffered the consequences of innocence lost.
The setting is the Hill Country of central Texas, and the cast includes four related children escorted for the day by their favorite aunt, Samantha (Sam), a twenty-something former police woman. They are the innocents, and it’s not long before they encounter the brother (Rolf) and sister (Tara) who are the owners of a down-at-heels farm cum vineyard who are the victims of a now-dead abusive father. Whether the father met his end at the hands of the son is one of several morally ambiguous questions that hover over the plot and remain unanswered at the story’s close.
Another is whether the ends can ever justify the means (or at least entitle the actor to a measure of the reader’s sympathy), especially when the abused adopts the role of the abuser to pursue the ends. This dilemma arises when it is revealed that Tara trolls the Mexican border seeking children who have been sent North by parents desperate enough to find a better life for their children to entrust them to the dubious care of coyotes willing to take them to the Promised Land for an outrageous fee. The motivation of Rolf and Tara is ostensibly to enlist the children to fight those who take advantage of minors (again, the specifics of how this is to be accomplished are not explained).
Along the way, Sam meets an “Aw shucks, Ma’am” rural law man, and it is he who leads the charge that rescues Sam and her charges – but only after the innocents have gone a long way towards saving themselves.
The tale is a fast read, less due to its length than for the smooth, effortless style in which it is written. And whether it is deliberate (to avoid dwelling on unpleasant topics and emotions) or simply the author’s style, the dark undertones of the plot are not pulled into the presentation: in tense and uncertain situations, the characters are more likely to find humor than terror, though the latter reaction would be more expected. When ugly events do occur, the effect is therefore all the more startling.
While the predominantly light approach that Lerma takes may seem paradoxical, it reflects the context within which he has chosen to write. Here’s how he explained it in an interview I posted here not long ago:
All my stories have to do with family.
Nuclear family, extended family, generational family.
That’s why even “One Night in the Hill Country” has adults and lots of kids, ages 9-12.
And the children are important. In this new thriller, there are illegal immigrant children, and their are Texas born and raised children. They interact, butt heads, mingle, merge, and learn surprising things about each other. They are integral to the story.
Yet they would not be able to, without the actions of the adults around them.
There’s humor, anguish, fear, anger, and danger.
I hope you’ll take a look at it.