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Dust and Heat By Susan Boren HE CAN’T GET THE DUST and heat out of his typewriter. At age 15, Rolando Hinojosa Smith decided to throw his lot in with the thing and now, over 40 years later, the typewriter still punches out hot, gritty characters. These characters, the author/Professor said, merge together in his writing to express the common spirit of the Rio Grande Valley. “I know the area so well, but in my writing I keep it shadowy on purpose. The names and places are fiction, the spirit isn’t,” said Hinojosa Smith, who writes under the name of Hinojosa. Born and raised in the small Texas town of Mercedes, he grew up in the school library reading Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley. He says avid readers make avid writers. “I used to go to the library all the time,” he said. “Readers are like sharks no natural enemies. They’ll consume anything.” Hinojosa Smith traced his beginnings as a writer to an essay contest at Mercedes High. “You had to be a junior or a senior. I was a junior at the time,” he said. “They chose five essays to be bound and kept at the school and mine was one of the ones that was chosen. I’ll bet it’s still there.” He wrote a satirical essay against smoking ads, an essay he said was the obvious work of a young boy who had never been oui of a small town. Hinojosa Smith did finally leave his small town, but many of his characters remain bound to the Valley. He said following their development as they live and die there is an end in itself. “In my stories, no one really achieves redemption at the end. There is no resolution,” he said. “And there’s no main character. There’s twoor three-hundred characters expressing a common focus.” His latest works, the Klail City Death Trip Series, focus on Klail, the fictitious county seat where his characters live and die. “Klail is a nice, Anglo, nonMexican name, something that won’t sound foreign to readers. I just liked the name,” he said. “Death Trip” was pulled from a book Hinojosa /F THERE IS ONE PLACE IN this state that is a place of its own it is the Valley. Something about it suggests that it doesn’t quite pertain to any country. The traveler breathes a sigh of relief when he presents a passport at one of a half-dozen seedy oficinas de migration that stand between the Valley and the United States of Mexico. There, with the North American alluvial plane squarely at his back, and the Mexican states of TamLlipas, or Nuevo Leon ahead, at least one is identified as an alien and the terms of visitation are clearly defined: you are born in a certain North . American City, residing usually in another, single, divorced or married, dedicated to a certain line of work and welcome in the country for no more than 180 days. Of this official rite of passage comes a certain assurance of knowing one’s status. The Valley is, for most of us, as remote as at least any city in northern Mexico. A place owned by the Bentsens, the Brands, and a handful of old Mexicano families, this just isn’t the Texas that Michiganders know from Houston Knights or Dallas or NBC Nightly News. Those realities are not even a departure from the peculiar realities of this peculiar place. Who would understand the unique set of circumstances by which a separate social code developed? Where one’s place in the social and commercial scheme is determined by a strange admixture of race, money, and history. A linguisticly, but not culturally integrated place where retirees from Wisconsin rail against the “mexicanness” of the towns they’ve chosen for winter homes, and where there are two curanderas to every seven formally trained physicians. Not even between the lines of one of the indigenous Freedom Newspaper’s dailies does this place readily give up its secrets. Some places are best interpreted through fiction. If any one writer has served as a biographer of this particular place, it is Rolando Hinojosa. Across ten years and half-a-dozen novels, Hinojosa has staked out a Yoknapatawpha County along the North Bank of the Rio Grande. Klail City, the most recent English language edition to what the author calls KLAIL CITY By Rolando Hinojosa Houston: Arte Pliblico Press, 1987 143 pages, $8.00 the “Klail City Death Trip Series,” won a Casa de las Americas literary prize when it was published in Spanish tin 1976. Like most of Hinojosa.’s novels, Klail City is no longer than a standard issue of The Socialist Review. Hinojosa, it seems, is writing the novel of the Valley one piece at a time. The Valley, which seems to have been written after Klail but was published in English in 1983, is a collection of dialogue, vignettes, newspaper clippings, depositions and entries from the diary of some soldier of the Mexican Revolution. Klail is not so eclectic. But neither is it a standard linear novel. Three. separate voices advance a dozen small plots, not toward resolution, but toward that point at which the author will leave them and then go, we can assume, to work on another 150 pages on his fictitious Belkin County. In Klail City, Pedro Galindo holds forth, in the voice of a knowing and sarcastic writer who now and again engages his readers in the third person personal and omniscient. But for the most is Rafe stories, and those of some two dozen Klail City residents: “some . . . have appeared on other occasions and at other times; some have scarcely been mentioned at all, and then, of course, there are those who are coming out for the first time; making their debut as it were.” But it is Jehd Malacara who gradually Rio Grande Valley Eclectic By Louis Dubose 20 DECEMBER 4, 1987