This collection of short stories, the winner of the 2103 PEN / Faulkner Award, is about lives on the border – the border of Mexico and the United States (where the Kentucky Club is), the border between childhood and adulthood, the border between being Mexican and being American (and trying to be both at the same time), the border between being desperate to leave a place and fiercely loyal to it (and, again, trying to be both at the same time), and the border between yourself and another person. These boundaries are fragile, and Saenz’s writing is attuned perfectly to the tenderness and tension managing such borders requires. Characters struggle with their sexuality, with the legacies of their parents (there are a lot of brutal fathers here), and the temptations of various addictions – alcohol, drugs, sex, even violence.
By the 7th story, certain pieces became clear, even a bit repetitive. Saenz’s protagonists build borders around themselves; they are damaged goods. I doubt even Danny, the abused student in “The Hurting Game,” can even recover.