review of The Water Museum Luis Alberto Urrea’s short story col­lec­tion, The Water Museum, is an ode to the south­west­ern U.S., its con­tra­dic­tions and multi-​culturalism as well as its humor and tragedies. Urrea’s prose sings, often imbu­ing even the most mun­dane details with an unex­pected poignancy. Many of these sto­ries pack a wal­lop, some­times through sud­den vio­lence, other times through the grad­ual rev­e­la­tion of a character’s true nature.

The title story “The Water Museum”, is a pow­er­ful, apoc­a­lyp­tic piece in which chil­dren who have never known rain expe­ri­ence a sim­u­lated thun­der­storm while the adults grieve the loss of the world they once knew. “Amap­ola” is a tale of young lovers told from the view­point of a besot­ted teenaged Romeo who falls for the hot lit­tle sis­ter of his Mex­i­can friend. What begins as a saga of ado­les­cent long­ing changes dra­mat­i­cally when the story reaches its stun­ning conclusion.

Urrea pop­u­lates his fic­tion with a won­der­ful melt­ing pot of grin­gos, Chi­canos, and Indi­ans – some­times with hilar­i­ous results, as in “The Sous Chefs of Iogua”, in which an elderly farmer finds him­self in the mid­dle of a restau­rant war among com­pet­ing Mex­i­can chefs. Then there is the lovely and heart­break­ing story “Farewell to Her Many Horses”, where we meet Don, a Sioux deal­ing with the death of his sis­ter and the arrival on the reser­va­tion of her guilt-​ridden anglo hus­band. Don reap­pears in “Taped to the Sky”, a lighter story that has him lend­ing his rifle to a jilted hus­band bent on shoot­ing his car.

The col­lec­tion is also a show­case for Urrea’s love of music. The musi­cal ref­er­ences are numer­ous, every­thing from two bud­dies who bond over Lou Reed to a nod to Nine Inch Nails and Alice Cooper.

For lovers of beau­ti­fully crafted fic­tion as well as those with a deep inter­est in the south­west, The Water Museum is a col­lec­tion not to be missed.

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