Book Review

Book chronicles a beautiful tragedy

Daring author brings Albuquerque's Native American underworld to life

By Johanna DeBiase
tempo@taosnews.com
Posted 11/19/19

Erika T. Wurth's newest novel, "You Who Enter Here," is not your typical New Mexico story. There are no farmers or curanderas, no historical figures or famous artists. There are no scenic backdrops with rivers and mountains and old adobe homes.

You have exceeded your story limit for this 30-day period.

Please log in to continue

Log in
Book Review

Book chronicles a beautiful tragedy

Daring author brings Albuquerque's Native American underworld to life

Posted

Erika T. Wurth's newest novel, "You Who Enter Here," is not your typical New Mexico story. There are no farmers or curanderas, no historical figures or famous artists. There are no scenic backdrops with rivers and mountains and old adobe homes.

What the book features is a side of New Mexico that most people want to ignore. This is a subset of our society you might never expect to care for - gangbangers. Not only does Wurth write deeply from the perspectives of drug dealers, junkies and murderers, but she makes her readers' hearts bleed for them.

"You Who Enter Here" is about a young Apache Navajo man with a drinking problem, Matthew, who joins a Native American gang, the 505s, in Albuquerque in the early 2000s.

Matthew grows up with an alcoholic mother. His mother forsakes her own culture in exchange for the crumbs of false love tossed at her by men both abusive to her and to her children. "When Matthew allowed himself to think about why he drank, which wasn't very often, he thought about running up to his mother when he was very little, hoping she'd hold him, let him sit on her lap. She smelled of lavender soap and beer. But there was always a man there, and if he didn't slap him away like he was some sort of stray cat, his mother would. He would go to the white-walled bedroom he shared with his sister and curl into the dirty sheets and cry, the sound of his mother's laughter echoing through the tiny apartment."

Matthew's only tie to the "rez" is his now-deceased grandmother. The memories he has of her are, though few, the happiest of his life. "She had held him in her lap in a big old stuffed chair, told him about Native American Church, about his clans. She had spoken to him in Diné, and she told dirty jokes. She was gentle and had soft, lined hands, and she would make him and his mother and sister blue-corn pork tamales in her tiny house, looking unhappily at her daughter, who would respond back to her angrily in English and Navajo and roll her eyes, asking her, 'So will you watch the kids or what?'"

When Matthew escapes his mother's home, he becomes a bum, living on the streets of Albuquerque until Chris finds him. Chris is in a gang, the 505s, urban Indians who take Matthew in and treat him like family, the only family Matthew has.

"With Chris he felt for the first time in his life that he had a home, a family, that he belonged. He had gotten his first tat with Chris, looking up while the silver needle drove into this skin and smiled, thinking of all the times Chris would try and wrestle with him the way a dad might've, or an older brother, his short muscular arms pulling Matthew's tall skinny frame into a headlock. Matthew would laugh, and struggle, and tell him to f**k the f**k off, but he loved it."

Chris helps him get sober and for a while, Matthew is happy being Chris' ally. Chris is power hungry and wants to grow their little gang into something bigger to rival the Mexican gangs. "Chris kept talking about how Indian gangs didn't have the kind of respect the Mexican gangs did here, that they barely existed, that they were just throwaways as far as the Mexican gangs were concerned. That they needed to do some real, visible damage if they wanted to be in the eyes of everyone."

Matthew is quiet. He loves to read. He understands how to keep the peace. And yet, in a single moment, he will shoot and kill someone without thought. Like in this scene when he kills an innocent witness, "Matthew stared at him, and something about the man reminded him of one of the men his mother had taken up with … Matthew whipped the .22 out of the back of his jeans and without thinking shot the man, three times … The man looked surprised, like it was his own nephew who had turned on him, and in fact, he did look a little like Matthew, tall and skinny and brown."

Matthew's hatred comes up from deep within him and takes over, but he feels detached from it. He doesn't see himself as a killer, but a victim of circumstance. "There is a part of Matthew that wanted to gun them all down, spare them from their own lives, let the poison that was inside of him out, but he wasn't that person. He didn't even like what he was doing."

Matthew falls in love with Chris' longtime girlfriend, Maria. For the first time in his life, he believes he has found love, something he never believed possible. And for a while, he thinks that she loves him back. But Maria is a junkie and in this life of drugs and violence, relationships are complex, and it is difficult to know who to trust. Everyone is out for themselves.

"Even though he didn't like junk, and booze was his thing, that thing, that big, fat, wet overwhelming need to let yourself be swallowed by something else was what had made him fall in love with Maria, because she understood it, too."

Between rival gangs, romantic love triangles and addiction, "You Who Enter Here" is wrought with page-turning tension.

Wurth writes with incredible candor and authority on her subject matter. She gets to the heart of her characters in such a way that one feels as if they are walking beside them, living in their pain. Wurth has written a beautiful tragedy. A sliver of life that no one wants to look at but can't turn away from. The tragedy of the soul, of people born into poverty and pain with no sense of self-worth who find sanction in gangs because that's all they have.

Wurth is Apache Chickasaw Cherokee raised outside of Denver, Colorado. This is her second novel, after "Crazy Horse's Girlfriend," as well as two collections of poetry and a collection of short stories, "Buckskin Cocaine." She teaches creative writing at Western Illinois University and has been a guest writer at the Institute of American Indian Arts.

Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous journals, including Boulevard, The Writer's Chronicle, Waxwing and the Kenyon Review. She is a Kenyon Review Writers Workshop Scholar, attended the Tin House Summer Workshop and has been chosen as a narrative artist for the Meow Wolf Denver installation.

Wurth is reading from her work Saturday (Nov. 23), 7 p.m., as part of SOMOS Prose Month events. Tickets are $8; $5 for SOMOS members. SOMOS is located at 108 Civic Plaza Drive. For more information, call (575) 758-0081 or email somos@somostaos.org or visit somostaos.org.

Comments


Private mode detected!

In order to read our site, please exit private/incognito mode or log in to continue.