Rick Rivera's "Stars Always Shine" (Bilingual Press, 2001) is a beautifully-crafted story of attorney Michelle Stanton ("Mitch") and English-degreed Placido Moreno ("Place") who flee the fast lane and become ranch hands for Jacqueline and Mickey Kittle. Thrown into the mix is the holdover Salvador, an undocumented Mexican, who worked for the previous owners.
Though technically not much happens in terms of plot, the characters go through major life changes as they confront their own and others expectations in matters of culture, language and the work ethic.
The most compelling relationship is between Place -- who feels a bit like a "pocho" because of his poor Spanish and "Americanized" ways of thinking -- and Salvador who is both amused and confounded by Place's ability to be in two cultures at once. With the help of Place, Salvador becomes more a part of the United States. Conversely, Salvador helps Place with his Spanish.
Rivera is masterful at painting believeable characters who are not unlike ourselves: At times filled with self-knowledge, at other times confounded by their imperfections. And his meticulous descriptions of Sonoma County's terrain and climate bring that part of California alive.
Rivera's clean, clear prose that ties his characters to the land reminds one of John Steinbeck or Gary Soto. One also learns much about the practicalities of running a ranch from irrigation to medicating cattle. We get the sense that Rivera knows what it means to live and work on a ranch.
In the end, this book demonstrates that each little decision we make, each person we allow into our lives, and each seemingly inconsequential action we take are the threads that we weave into the fabric of our lives. This is a very fine book.
"Stars Always Shine" is Rivera's second novel. His first book is "A Fabricated Mexican" which was published by Arte P?blico Press in 1995.
Rivera teaches literature, composition, and creative writing at a community college in California.
Daniel A. Olivas:
Daniel is a Chicano writer living in the San Fernando Valley. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.