Friday, June 22, 2012

Review: Taxi Rojo by Erik Orrantia

Taxi Rojo is my first read by Erik Orrantia. The setting is Tijuana, Mexico. That right there is one of the reasons this book grabbed my attention. For me, the setting alone presented many wonderful possibilities for this story, and I couldn't wait to meet Orrantia's characters.

With Taxi Rojo, Orrantia creates that combination of LGBT fiction with romance/love stories that I seem to enjoy so much these days. And yes, if the definition of romance is for couples to find a happily ever after, there are at least two full-fledged romances and the beginning of another one in Taxi Rojo. Of course these are no cookie cutter romances, gay or otherwise. Orrantia's characters are everyday people struggling to survive in a place where survival is the word of the day, and their romances are not fantasy filled, but take place as they struggle with the harsh realities of every day concerns. I think of these as reality-based romances.

The story begins when six strangers share a taxi from downtown to Playas, a neighborhood in Tijuana, Mexico. While on their way, there is a tragic accident where the driver and a passenger are killed. The passenger is a gay old man who is found with no wallet or identification. The rest of the passengers survive and forge a bond through this terrible experience that changes their lives.

Orrantia highlights each central character from their individual points of view beginning with Pancha/Pancho, a transvestite and performer who dreams of finding a man who will accept her for whom she is. She's just not sure that her long-term lover Eduardo is that man. After the accident, Pancha finally finds the resolve to clarify her position to Eduardo. Julia is a poor, guilt-ridden, hardworking woman that lives for her family but has allowed herself to become a doormat. The death of that unknown old man in the taxi deeply affects Julia, and slowly she strives to make things happen for herself, including allowing a man in her life. Julia's character also serves to make a social statement. Through her character, Orrantia makes the argument and shows the need and growing frustrations that comes from the daily struggle of having to cross that border on a daily basis to make a living.

Rigoverto, Cristian and Toni's lives become intertwined when, in the evening of the accident, Rigo and Toni hook up while Rigo's partner Cristian is away. Rigo and Cris confront two conflicts in this story; dishonesty/lack of trust due to Rigo's lies and a more serious conflict that arises as a result of medical testing that will affect Cris and Rigo's lives forever. Each character struggles with the emotional aftermath and consequences of their actions, as well as with the possibility of a future together or apart. In the meantime, Toni's denial of his sexuality is as wide as the River Nile. I found this character rather compelling because he's not just in the closet or on the down low – he’s in complete, utter denial. As a result of his encounters with Rigo, life also changes for Toni, and as his homosexual encounters gain momentum that denial changes to extreme homophobia.

There's a lot of denial going on in this story and all the characters seem to rationalize their actions in one way or another until the accident takes place. Afterwards, most of Orrantia's characters work through the denial, rationalization, and conflicts, while others can't come to terms with reality and cross the line. On a personal note, I enjoyed all the stories but must admit that Pancha and Eduardo's romance became my favorite and particularly like the queer twist that Orrantia brought to their happy ending.

Although there are multiple points of view used in Taxi Rojo, Orrantia delivers a tight narrative by using the bond established by the characters through the accident and the old man's death. As the setting, Tijuana is incorporated into the story so seamlessly that it almost becomes another character that the author explores to its fullest extent with all its gritty flaws exposed. There are happy endings in Taxi Rojo, moments that may seem to be just a bit too happy or convenient in the end. But in my opinion if anybody deserved happy moments and happy endings, these characters with their ordinary lives and struggles, did. Well done!

Category: LGBT Fiction/Romance
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: Cheyenne Publishing/April 10, 2012
Grade: B+

Visit Erik Orrantia here.


  1. Great review! I enjoyed it for the most part... I had a copy with lots of errors, so that pulled me out of the story. Some of the characters I really liked, others annoyed me; but I found them all to be compelling.

    The writing style was what I struggled with the most. There was such a lack of dialogue it really bothered me. I felt as if someone was reading a story to me, which I did NOT enjoy.

    Although a solid story, I don't think I can read another of his works.

    1. Mariana, unfinished egalleys can be tough on a reader/reviewer, not just because of the errors but also because the clunky formatting can affect the way you read the book. All of that can pull you out of the story.

      I really enjoyed how Orrantia pulled a group of ordinary people out of his city and made their stories compelling. I think he accomplished that with flying colors. I'm glad this was a solid read for you.

      Oh it was the writing style! Interesting. I enjoyed the writing style, although I see what you mean. He uses the 3rd POV narrative style throughout the whole novel, and yes through the short introduction and the accident section that narrative is heavy. However, once the novel took off, I didn't really notice it because the stories were compelling and I found the narrative voice to be strong. Julia and Toni's characters were the characters with the most inner dialog and their situations were riveting for me.

      I know you say you won't read another of his works, but I'll read Normal Miguel and let you know if the style is the same. It has been highly, highly recommended all around. :)

    2. I was really interested in all their stories. I wanted a happy ending, although it would be completely unrealistic for them all to get one. Julia, Pancha and Cristian I especially wanted to find happiness. I kept hoping Cristian would be OK, he's the biggest victim I think. Toni was difficult to like; I was amazed and saddened by him. Mr. Orrantia really was great with the characters.

    3. Mariana, yes! Julia and Pancha had me at hello! Cristian I loved, but I didn't see him as a real victim in all this, because even though he was betrayed by Rigo, he was not blameless. Actually, I loved and respected him the most when he also took responsibility for the situation and took the correct steps to secure a future. And Rigo? There's a lot of character growth there... no question about that. Rough way to grow though. Don't you think? And Toni? I agree with you on him... difficult to like, but a compelling and fascinating character nonetheless. I found his relief in the end rather interesting, don't you? It's almost as if he was finally where he wanted to be -- with no choices left.

      For me, Orrantia's characters all turned out to be memorable.

  2. Hi Hilcia...I'm listening to a very sad fado song and reading about tour comment makes me think this story is a melancholic one even with one HEA in there. It makes me feel so sad just reading about it...I wonder how much more it would feel like reading it. then Mariana said she doesn't think she'll read seems to me this too heavy on disappointments, no?

    1. Oh, I love fado, Sonia. A real sad one can rip out your soul.

      Ahh, this story. It's a mixture of both, Sonia. Actually, there are three very hopeful and happy endings in this story for the characters that we get to meet in-depth in Taxi Rojo - except for one. They were well-deserved happy moments. :) But the journey there is not easy, the characters struggle through real life difficulties to get there. So you are right my friend, there are also sad, disappointing situations along the way.

      RE: Mariana's comments. My understanding is that her main problem is the writing style used in this novel. The way Orrantia used the 3rd person narrative didn't work for her.

      No more melancolia for you, my friend. Listen to (and read) something happy if that's what you need. :)


  3. I don't generally read this sub-genre but you made me very curious Hils! I can totally picture these characters in the Tijuana setting. Great review!

    1. Leslie, Orrantia nailed the setting. I could picture the place in mind. The characters just belonged there and made this a great read for me. If you venture out and read this book, I would love to read your thoughts! :D

  4. A wonderful review and in-depth comments! I want to thank you all, and Indigene for her recommendation, for your insight and frankness. All criticism is constructive food for thought. Though I am certainly a sucker for a nice HEA, I also am deeply affected by the suffering...and triumph...of the human spirit. I'm looking forward to more great feedback, if you would ever be so kind.

    1. Mr. Orrantia, thank you for stopping by. We obviously enjoyed your story and wonderful characters. The struggles and journey they undertake make them perfect for discussion and analysis.

      Personally, I think that you conveyed your points, both the suffering and the triumph of the human spirit. That was particularly evident to me in Julia and Pancha's characters, who both made such an effort to overcome the odds and triumphed. When I think of Rigo and Cris, I think of hope, and what lifts the human spirit more than hope? So yes... happy moments, hope, triumph... yes... As I said above, these are memorable characters for me, Mr. Orrantia. Thank you.

    2. PS: RE: HEA and romance. I wanted to make a point in my review about both terms in this case, Mr. Orrantia. No-one is happily ever after, except in a fairy tale, and if we are reading contemporary tales they must maintain a certain level of reality, not just fantasy. At least there has to be some reality in there for me. I wanted to point out that a story about ordinary people struggling everyday can also contain romance. That the main characters don't need to be slim hipped, squared-jawed beauties to be the men who will make someone happy for the rest of their lives (to be the one) -- Pancha and Eduardo. There was romance there. And, there's more, but I don't want to spoil the story any more than I already have... :)

    3. Hi Hilcia,

      I couldn't agree more! The true characters in Brokeback Mountain certainly did not have the Hollywood looks of the actors! My idea for ever having coming to and lived in Mexico was get a better idea about the rest of the world--the real world! I hope it comes across in my stories:)

    4. Hi Erik!

      So glad you dropped in to comment and I am loving this discussion. As I mentioned in my post to Hils, I'll be back to jump in once I've posted my review.


    5. Mr. Orrantia, it does! It definitely comes across. :)

    6. Hello Mr. Orrantia,
      I'd like to congratulate you on creating such moving and compelling characters. As I said, I'm not a fan of the 3rd person narrative and had some difficulty enjoying the book to its fullest, but I still think of those characters. It also opened a window to a life that is foreign to mine and I found quite fascinating and touching.

  5. Hils,

    I knew you would enjoy Mr. Orrantia's writing! Now you have to read Normal Miguel and The Equinox Convergence.

    I am still writing my review of Taxi Rojo so I've only skimmed over yours and popping in here to say hi and chat under these circumstances is tricky. I did read the discussion and have an overwhelming urge to jump right in but do want to post my review before I do. So as Arnie says, I'll be back! LOL

    1. Indie,

      Of you were right, you know what I like. LOL! I am reading both books. :) I'm looking forward to reading your review! We can definitely continue the discussion here and there. :)


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