Hotel Juárez: Stories, Rooms and Loops
A collection of short fiction that is rooted in the author’s home of El Paso, Texas, and its sister city across the border, Ciudad Juarez.
by Daniel Chacón
Published: March 30, 2013
Bind: Trade Paperback
In this collection of short and flash fiction, Daniel Chacón examines peoples’ interactions with each other, the impact of identity and the importance of literature, art and music. In one story, a girl remembers her father, who taught her to love books and libraries. “A book can whisper at you, call at you from the shelves. Sometimes a book can find you. Seek you out and ask you to come and play,” he told her. Years later, she finds herself pulling an assortment from the shelves, randomly reading passages from different books and entering into the landscapes as if each book were a wormhole. Somehow one excerpt seems to be a continuation of another, connecting in the way that birds do when they fly from a tree to the roof of a house, making “an idea, a connection, a tree-house.”
Misconceptions about people, the responsibility of the artist and conflicts about identity pepper these stories that take place in the U.S. and abroad. In “Mais, Je Suis Chicano,” a Mexican American living in Paris identifies himself as Chicano, rather than American. “It’s not my fault I was born on the U.S. side of the border,” he tells a French Moroccan woman when she discovers that he really is American, a word she says “as if it could be replaced with murderer or child molester.”
Many of the stories are very short and contain images that flash in the reader’s mind, loop back and connect to earlier ones. Other stories are longer, like rooms, into which Chacón invites the reader to enter, look around and hang out. And some are more traditional. But whether short or long, conventional or experimental, the people in these pieces confront issues of imagination and self. In “Sábado Gigante,” a young boy who is “as big as a gorilla” must face his best friend’s disappointment that—in spite of his size—he’s a terrible athlete, and even more confounding, he prefers playing dolls to baseball. Whether in Paris or Ciudad Juárez, Chacón reveals his characters at their most vulnerable in these powerful and rewarding stories, anti-stories and loops.
Learn more at soychacon.blogspot.com.
Recipient of the 2014 PEN Oakland-Josephine Miles Award for Excellence in Literature
Recipient of the 2014 Tejas Foco Fiction Award
Finalist for the 2014 Balcones Fiction Prize
“In seemingly effortless fashion, Chacón’s talent goes into play, his collection unfolding with sketches of life…sketches that [he] draws for us in unpretentious prose—all on the border between the U.S. and Mexico, all on the border between life and art.”—Alan Cheuse, NPR’s All Things Considered
“A master of narrative brevity, Chacón collects several short fictions, from stand-alone koans to connected vignettes…[his] prose moves swiftly, doubles back, and echoes itself with tessellated, Alhambra-like layering.”—Booklist
“Linked but never repetitive, these beautiful stories are fresh, with just enough Borges-ian magic to make them feel extraordinary.”—Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
“In Hotel Juarez, Chacón uses his forebears’ method and madness like a cartographer uses the known tools of the trade to chart hitherto unexplored lands. And the land where Chacón’s characters struggle for being is along that slanted dash that splits the arbitrary binaries of Chicano/Mexican, Texan/American, past/present, and living/dead. Chacón is the Solzhenitsyn of the Southwest. Borges of the Border. Calvino of the Rio Grande. He respects his precursors by using their style as lights to illuminate his own place in time, a place too often written off as apart from the United States.”—Texas Books in Review
DANIEL CHACÓN grew up in Fresno, California, the last of three children. He lived with one foot in the city and one in rural Fresno County, with fig orchards, cow pastures, and low flying crop dusters appearing outside the window of his living room. All he had to do was cross the highway and he was in the city: brick walls, concrete curbs, streetlights, stray dogs, bill boards, neon signs, and bearded homeless men who walked around the parking lots of strip malls looking for money.
His brother and sister were too preoccupied with discovering their teen years to pay him too much attention, so he used his imagination a lot, sometimes too much… He remembers his mother telling him, “Daniel, you think too much. Stop it.” When he was a child, everything around him took on meaning in his imagination. A homeless man walking through the field near his house was a kidnapper or a warlock, the plane flying low overhead was a Russian bomber, and a strangely shaped cloud was the spirit of death. Writing became a place where he could retreat.
Now from his home on a hill overlooking downtown El Paso and Ciudad Juárez, he writes with the same urgency. Like Malamud’s character in The Tenants, he wakes up every morning, puts on his cold pants and says to himself, “I must write. Otherwise there is no peace.”
Somewhere, somehow between high school and his first years of college, Chacón convinced himself that he should be a lawyer. He majored in Political Science and was active in the Chicano Student Movement. The year before his graduation, he took Fiction Writing, and his instructors, poet Connie Hales and fiction writer Steve Yarborough, encouraged him to keep writing. Along with his BA in Political Science, he left Fresno State with a Master’s in English. Then he went on to get an MFA in Fiction Writing from the University of Oregon.
Chacón’s first published work, a collection of short stories entitled Chicano Chicanery (Arte Público Press, 2000), captures the shrewd, furtive, and sometimes tortuous ways by which Mexican Americans manage to survive in intimidating territory—often only to trip themselves up. The New York Times Book Review said, “Although a collection of short stories, this book is a ‘Portrait of the Chicano Artist as a Young Man’.” He is also the author of two novels: And the Shadows Took Him (Washington Square Press, 2005) and Unending Rooms (Black Lawrence Press, 2008). Hotel Juárez: Stories, Rooms and Loops was published by Arte Público in March 2013. Chacón’s stories have been published in some of the country’s leading literary journals, such as ZYZZYVA, The New England Review, and The Colorado Review.
Chacón taught for five years at MJC, where he was co-coordinator of the Puente Program, which brings Chicana/o literature to the community college writing class. He taught for a year at Southwest State University in Marshall, Minnesota. Now he teaches in the MFA program at the University of Texas at El Paso. When he’s not in class, he’s on a hill, in his home overlooking the twin cities, El Paso and Juárez, and he’s writing.