Breaking Even

By Alejandro Grattan-Dominguez
Reviewed by Anita Henry
Professor Emeritus—French Literature


breaking-evenThis finely-crafted novel of discovery and reaching adulthood is an entrancing read. The author has created a classical format; like a play in five acts, the five parts of the tale move the storyline along at a dramatic pace. Part One sets up the exposition as it involves the reader in the events of the protagonist’s eighteenth birthday and introduces the Texas town from which he yearns to escape.

The author’s sense of place and character creation is so strong that the reader deeply cares about young Val Cooper before the end of the first chapter. From that point, it is hard to put the book down.

It is perhaps Mr. Grattan’s background as a screenwriter that enables him to write dialogue that sounds exactly authentic, and to create scenes that are surprisingly visual in a piece of written fiction. Whatever this case may be, the author is a gifted storyteller who keeps the reader hoping Val will succeed in his quest and achieve his ambition, and that his discoveries along the way will not destroy him.

We also come to care about the other characters around Val: his Mexican mother and her problems because of her ethnic identity, his step-father, his girlfriend Bonnie, and the wonderfully believable “Blue Morgan”—a would-be singer, down on her luck.

This is an emotional book, not without grit, but with a final paragraph that satisfies the reader’s longing to learn how Val turned out. It is one of those rare novels whose characters stay with the reader after the final page, and which can be re-read with pleasure equal to or greater than that of the first time.

I also wished for a sequel in order to spend more time with Val. Perhaps Mr. Grattan could further entertain us with the details of Val’s life during the years covered by the last text break in the novel. It is a gifted novelist who can leave his readers craving for more.

(The novel, published by Arte Publico, is scheduled to soon go into another printing. It can be purchased on and also can be found at the LCS Library in the Local Authors section.)

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