Mike Padilla’s debut collection of short stories, Hard Language, sketches the experiences of a diverse selection of Hispanic Americans struggling to live their lives in the U.S. The stories absorb the reader into their prose, with startling maturity and depth, making the book anything but hard to read. The Hispanic Americans run the gamut of personalities and abilities, each confronted by their environment, which forces them to come to terms with themselves in the greater outside culture.
In the title story, a Mexican-American construction worker’s jealousy and controlling behavior become entwined with a dark resentment of his wife’s English-speaking abilities. Among the writer’s other startling snapshots, Padilla captures the day the family brought out a pickaxe to tear apart old Aunt Eufrasia’s house (“It is like the christening of a ship,” my mother said as the pickaxe swung, but no one looked at her); the uneasy relationship holding together two elderly women who were once best friends but are now only housemates; the odd kinship felt between a wealthy and attractive, but emotionally remote, Stanford student and her studious, cocaine-dealing classmate, who decides the best way to a girl’s heart is through her nose; that special love shared only among family members (“Wait until you’re fat and have a lot of pimples,” she told her cousin. “The girls will all run away from you screaming their heads off, and you’ll want to kill yourself.”); and a nervous romance between a fourteen-year-old Mexican tom-boy and her new neighbor, a clumsy young Russian emigré who falls all too hard for her.