The uneasy ‘inbetweenness’ of lives that cross borders

In Manuel Muñoz’s short story collection “The Consequences,” each individual receives the gift of consideration. These are lives as deserving of attention and grace as any other. 

"The Consequences: Stories" by Manuel Muñoz, Graywolf Press, 224 pp.

In the opening story of acclaimed writer Manuel Muñoz’s latest collection, Delfina, a young mother new to her neighborhood, muses “that strangers only introduced themselves when they needed something.” The needs in “The Consequences” are great: Characters old and young, legal and unauthorized, gay and straight long for not just the basics – money, work, a helping hand – but also acceptance, independence, release. Set in the modest farming towns of California and Texas, the stories evoke the uneasy “inbetweenness” of lives that cross borders, as well as the power of small kindnesses amid daily struggles and doubts.

Muñoz describes himself as “in love with cuentos” (stories). It’s an affection that infuses his work – and one borne out by accolades. His 2007 collection, “The Faith Healer of Olive Avenue,” was shortlisted for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award; he’s also earned three O. Henry Awards and a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship.

A native of Dinuba, California, Muñoz writes with care and specificity about Mexican Americans living in and around Fresno and Visalia, as well as the Texas towns beyond San Antonio. Take Delfina, the young mother featured in “Anyone Can Do It.” Approached by a neighbor with a moneymaking proposition after the local men fail to return from the fields, she weighs multiple needs: scrape together rent money, care for her little boy, and, equally urgent, disrupt “the lull of normalcy ... just when she was on the brink of doing something truly on her own.” Her decision and its dismaying result unspool with both inevitability and surprise.

In “The Happiest Girl in the Whole USA,” narrator Griselda, resigned yet resolute, takes the bus from Fresno to Los Angeles to bring home her deported partner, Timoteo. “It takes money to get a man back from the border,” she notes, “more money than most might think.” Along the way, Griselda meets Natalia, recently arrived from Mexico and new to the deportation dance. Initially reluctant to help, Griselda takes the woman under her wing. It’s an initiation of sorts into the circle of women who’ve hitched themselves to vulnerable men who will need their support again and again.

“Presumido” introduces Juan and Daryl, a couple stressed and tested by class and personality differences (tensions made worse by Juan’s increased drinking and social withdrawal), while “Susto” follows a lonely foreman who finds the body of a farmer in a field, “leather shoes worn and woeful at the soles.” It’s a haunted – and haunting – tale. 

Throughout the collection, Muñoz’s writing quietly dazzles with its unforced, patient, and lyrical lines. His choice to weave several characters into multiple stories proves effective; the tactic builds a backstory and empathy.

Whether describing a high school-aged new mother, a gay teen’s escape from his family, or a man “as bored with his life as his mother was lonely with hers,” Muñoz shapes characters at odds with their surroundings, grappling with the choices they’ve made. These choices aren’t easy to confront; in some cases, they’re reprehensible – selfish, crass, debauched. But in the stories he tells, each individual receives the gift of consideration: These are lives as deserving of attention and grace as any other. 

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to The uneasy ‘inbetweenness’ of lives that cross borders
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today