Thankful for D and her writing up of this synopsis. I have a new respect for those who write these:
“Neto told me the residents named the building the Highland, after the street it was built on in downtown Colorado Springs, and that later, in the 70’s, some state agency changed it to Pikes Peak Health Horizons. But Neto always referred to it as the House of Order. The place to get your habits straightened out.”
One habit Relles “Manito” Ortiz acquires from Tio Neto and his dead father’s family is the ability to push down pain and emotion. Abandoned by his mother and living with his Abuelos and Tio Neto, who’s currently between wives, Manito does not so much come of age in these sixteen composite short stories as he comes to terms with his family “crash sites,” which stretch across at least three states, as far away as Vietnam, and that follow the Ortiz family over fifty years. Some of the stories are Manito’s, told in first person. The others he has to pull from his family, usually his Tio Neto:
“I ask, “What did my father think of all this?”
“Well, I say Goddamn. Now I know you’re growing, Manito. Now I know you’re nearly what a man should be. A man has got to know about his family.”
Then he ignores me.”
Manito grows up with little family context, unable to sort myth from fact, and abuse from love. He understands that being in a family is not necessarily the same thing as belonging.
Thirty years earlier, Cordelia Ortiz, family matriarch and “Jefita” explained to her small son Ernesto “Neto,” that transients are not men to be admired. “No place in the world will keep men like those,” the Jefita warned. “They have no place.” The Jefita’s goal was to build a real home for her husband, sons, and fosters. But Santiago is laconic and unfaithful. He finds release from the constant scramble for money and long hours at the mill by bullying or ignoring his family, by “throwing palo” with neighborhood women in the garage late at night. It’s all part of his vision of manhood, a vision that will both attract and repel the next two generations of Ortiz men.
Southern Colorado’s Huérfano County infects the area, hangs metaphorically over the Ortiz family as isolation and abandonment. Neto explains to Manito that where they live, “deserted” means many things:
It means losing a ride out to the lanes for work in the onion fields. Quitting school to work and contribute to the mortgage. Ignitions that won’t fire and friends who won’t come around. . . .Fathers who die.
The Ortiz family stories presented in The House of Order reflect heartbreak and bleakness, but they also mirror strength and resiliency. Manito does not simply recover painful memories from his family; he begins to re-envision them. It is how Manito finds his own way to manhood and a glimpse of life outside of the county of orphans.