Weekly Wire
NewCityNet Crossing the Line

An author who's borderline obsessed.

By Ray Woodring

MAY 26, 1998:  Minus the sympathetic tone of writer Barry Gifford and photographer David Perry, "Bordertown" would be the Triple-A Guide to Hell.

The men toured both sides of the Tex-Mex border to produce this disquieting photojournal of a wretched place where stolen children, murdered prostitutes and the high-school quarterback's suicide are typical headlines.

Only Perry's eye for ironic compositions keeps this album from becoming a mere catalog of horrors. Human corpses appear beside laughing trick-or-treaters and store marquees incongruously advertise mercy. Many of the book's most striking images (like a child lying face-down before a truckload of piņatas) simply convey a numbing weirdness, and its more violent shots are almost clinically candid. Yet "Bordertown" finds force in their simple accumulation. Gifford's text - a collection of reportage and short fictional speculations - indicts America for its role in the border enclaves' viciousnesss. Although based on a cursory historical treatment, Gifford's simmering indignation galvanizes his insight into the town's people; his charged prose gives a haunting identity to Perry's pictures.

The charge Gifford draws from the bordertowns electrifies the opening chapters of his newest novel, "The Sinaloa Story." Beginning as a crime noir set in one of these dangerous towns, the novel broadens into a larger tale of tortured lives lived on America's periphery.

Masterfully sketching characters out of the smallest scenes and bits of dialogue, Gifford occasionally crosses into caricatures. But even Gifford's "serious" characters have their moments of absurdity and often endearing humor. Ultimately, "The Sinaloa Story," like "Bordertown," depicts a community of have-nots largely hidden from America's haves. But the wide-angle sweep of the novel suggests that bordertowns, far from being isolated pockets of despair, exist all around America.

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