Excerpt from The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The House of Broken Angels

by Luis Alberto Urrea

The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea X
The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2018, 336 pages
    Mar 2019, 368 pages


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Qué cabrón. The morning had crept downhill like brown sludge. Muffled. Yet sounds were violently silver in his ears, all reverberations. Noise shocked him. His bones wailed deep in the midnight of his flesh, as white and hot as lightning.

"Please," he prayed.

"Daddy," his daughter said, "tuck your shirt in."

It was loose in the back—it kept coming out of his trousers. But his arms couldn't reach it. He sat on the bed glaring.

"My arms don't work," he said. "They used to work. Now they don't work. You do it."

She was trying to get into the bathroom to spray her hair. Her mother had laid waste in there, scattering brushes and girdles and makeup everywhere. Combs lay across the counter like fallen leaves from a plastic tree. Minnie was already sick of this whole funeral thing. She was almost forty, and her parents made her feel sixteen.

"Yes, Father," she said.

Was that a tone? Did she have a tone just then? Big Angel glanced at the clock. His enemy.

Mother, you were not supposed to die. Not now. It's hard enough already, you know. But she wasn't answering. Just like her, he thought. The silent treatment. She had never forgiven him for her suspicions about his past, about his part in the fire. And the death. He wasn't telling anyone, ever.

Yes, I did it, he thought. I heard his skull crack. He turned his face, lest anyone discover his guilt. I knew exactly what I was doing. I was happy to do it.

His mind kept playing a cartoon of a traffic jam made entirely of coffins. Really? Not funny, God. He'd show them all—he'd be early for his own pinche funeral.

"Vámonos," he shouted.

There was a time he could make the walls crack with his voice.

Across the bedroom, above his mirror, hung a crooked gallery of pictures of his ancestors. Grandfather Don Segundo, in a vast Mexican revolutionary sombrero: I feared you. Behind him in the picture, Grandmother, faded brown. To Segundo's right, Big Angel's mom and dad. Father Antonio: I mourn you. Mamá América: I bury you.

His daughter stopped trying to get past her mom and bent to Big Angel's shirttail to take care of him.

"Don't touch my nalgas," he said.

"I know, right?" she said. "Grabbing my daddy's stringy butt. Too exciting."

They faked a laugh, and she shoved back into the bathroom.

His wife burst out with her hands clamped to her hair, the strap of her full slip falling off her shoulder. He loved her collarbone and the wide straps of her bra. He was fascinated by the dark brown skin on either side of her straps, her shoulders scored by the weight of all the milk that had made her breasts so heavy and long. Dark grooves in her shoulders that always looked painful but that he could not stop kissing and licking in the days when they had still made love. He was soft inside his trousers, but his eyes were focused. The slip shimmered as she hurried, and he watched her bottom wiggle with each step.

She insisted on calling the slip "mi petticoat." He had always meant to look that up, because he was sure a petticoat was something else entirely, but then he realized he didn't want to correct her. When he was resting in the dirt, he was going to miss her little phrases. And her sounds: her stockings made frantic shish-shish-shish noises as she rushed to the closet to destroy it the same way she had wrecked the bathroom. Even her little grunts of panic pleased him. She sucked in a sip of air and made a sound: Sst-uh. Sst-uh. She stepped out of the closet and waved her hands.

"Look at the time, Flaco," she said. "Look at the time."

"What," he wanted to know, "have I been telling everybody?"

"You're right, Flaco. You're always right. Ay Dios."

Excerpted from The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea. Copyright © 2018 by Luis Alberto Urrea. Excerpted by permission of Little Brown & Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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