Sunday, February 2, 2020
Deportees, by James Lee Burke
I think we need to begin by talking about years. Notice that the calendar date on this magazine is 2019/2020. So why didn't I review it in 2019? Because it only arrived in my mailbox this week.
So let's call this my first review of a 2020 story, since through January I was still covering 2019, to give myself as much time as possible to cover those tales. My Best-of-the-Year list went up at SleuthSayers on Wednesday.
And "Deportees" is a beautifully written story.
The narrator, Aaron, was a child as World War II started. His father has run off again, and so he has gone with his mother (who was "crazy and had undergone electroshock treatments") to live with his grandfather on a farm in Texas. Grandfather had been a Texas ranger but had lost almost everything to alcohol.
On the first night a group of refugees come across the Mexican border and find shelter in Grandfather's barn. A local lawman named Mr. Watts comes looking, claiming they might be Japanese infiltrators.
Mother notes the local hypocrisy concerning Mexicans. "In good times we bring them in by the truckload. When there's drought, the Mexicans are the devil's creation."
The family has other reasons to despise Watts. For one, he invites Grandfather to church. The old man replies: "I know your preacher well. I saw him at a cross-burning once. He was setting fire to the cross. I was writing down license numbers."
But there are reasons much worse than that. It is worth finding out what they are.