Mesha Maren on the oft-misunderstood complexity of the southern border

Mesha Maren’s “Perpetual West.”
Author Mesha Maren’s second novel, “Perpetual West,” offers a complex portrait of the El Paso-Ciudad Jarez region through the lens of a newlywed couple who moves there to find their lives turned upside down.
Author photo by Natalia Weedy | Book cover courtesy of Algonquin Books/Workman Publishing

When news happens along the U.S.-Mexico border, stories about the region are often filled with statistics about crime or the consequences of policies that fail to address migration from the south to the north.

But fiction often tells a more nuanced truth than straightforward reporting, and that’s what writer Mesha Maren does in her new novel, “Perpetual West.”

It examines the misinformation and misperceptions that endure about the borderlands, even as it pulls readers in with a mysterious disappearance. Newlyweds Alex and Elena have just moved to El Paso, Texas — a city that is economically, socially and politically entwined with its twin on the other side of the border, Ciudad Juarez. As Alex explores his roots in Mexico, he becomes deeply enamored with Mateo, a masked luchador who competes in the world of lucha libre, Mexican professional wrestling. And then Alex goes missing.

To write the book, Maren mined her own history of living in El Paso and discovering a more complicated story about the region than the one she initially believed. She also took professional wrestling lessons, in order to accurately convey the culture and rituals of lucha libre. (Spoiler alert: she wasn’t a natural.)

This week, MPR host Kerri Miller talked with Maren about how our identities can be bound up in a place, what Maren realized while teaching prison inmates to write and what she learned during those infamous wrestling lessons.

Guest:

To listen to the full conversation you can use the audio player above.

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