Day of the Dead

Title: Day of the Dead
Author: Erik Orrantia
Cover Artist: Catt Ford
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Buy link: (Second Edition)
Genre: Contemporary M/M Romance
Length: 206 pages
Rating: 5 stars out of 5

 A Guest Review by: Stuart

 Review Summary: Day of the Dead is a profound and beautiful novel exploring how places shape our lives and define our choices and whether love can help us transcend these constraints.


“I’ll see you in a few days. I won’t say good-bye, then, but hasta luego.” Until later. A later that never came. After visiting his sick mother in Mexico, Arturo didn’t return to San Francisco. With an expired tourist visa and a lover and business to get back to, he risked reentering the US illegally but never made it across the border. Haunted by constant thoughts of Arturo, Joe has to carry on in his absence and the lingering despair of loss as he relives their past. His responsibilities to both their restaurant and to Chava, a troubled, hot-tempered young man they’d taken in, demand Joe pull himself together. But Chava’s past is never far behind. Caught in the middle, Joe must make a choice. In the aftermath, he decides to visit Arturo’s parents. It’s a desperate bid for peace, but Joe isn’t sure revisiting his memories will be enough to help him move on, even when later finally arrives on the Day of the Dead.


Whether you will choose to read Erik Orrantia’s Day of the Dead depends on what you are seeking from M/M fiction. It’s not a book to relax with after a long day at work and it contains few of the elements common to the genre. For example, there are no naked men, seductions, or remotely explicit sex scenes in DotD.  There is no melodrama, angst or sentimentality. There is not even a HEA, in the usual sense. Instead, Day of the Dead is a novel about the specificity and universality of love, suffering, grief, injustice, friendship, work, God, transcendence, money, class, and power.  I read it slowly over the course of 8 days, with many pauses for reflection.

The novel is built around main character Joe’s grief-stifled life in San Francisco during the two months prior to the Day of the Dead, when he will commemorate the third anniversary of his partner Arturo’s death.

Joe and Arturo were partnered for 5 years before Arturo’s disappearance, having met and fallen in love at the Festival Internacional Cervantino held annually in Arturo’s hometown of Guanajuato, Mexico. One of the great pleasures of the book is its specificity of place. The book abounds in lush, poetic descriptions of locations as different as Guanajuato, San Francisco, Phoenix, Tecate, and Tijuana.  These descriptions are not mere travelogue, however. In order to understand Joe and Arturo, we need to understand how the specific places they are from made them the particular people they are. To understand Arturo, we need to understand Guanajuato, “… with its colonial buildings strewn about rolling hills, cobblestone streets, alleyways and staircases in irregular arrays. Plazas and taco carts stood on every corner, potted plants on second story balconies, women in aprons sweeping the street outside their homes until they stopped to gossip with the neighbors, and thriving old trees grew in strange directions on slanted embankments, roots clinging to bare rock.”

Places can dictate or limit our decisions, and they certainly do in DotD. Arturo is a Mexican citizen and Joe a US citizen. Joe can cross freely back and forth across the border, while Arturo cannot. For Joe, borders are abstractions that might involve standing in various types of lines to show his American passport. For Arturo, La Linea, The Line, is a reality of fences and walls that physically define where and how he can exist. Red ink on a denied visa application prevents Arturo from boarding a plane, bus, train or car and traveling the 518 miles that separate him from the life he lovingly built with Joe in San Francisco. Arturo dies because he is not permitted to cross an imaginary line in a specific place. As Erik Orrantia succinctly and beautifully writes of Joe and Arturo: “They were two people with vastly different power based on where they’d been born and how much money they had. The world was a cruel place.”

Joe’s decisions are equally constrained by place, though in a different way. If Joe could have married Arturo in San Francisco then Arturo could have received a Green Card and sought US citizenship. But there is no federal right to same-sex marriage and Joe cannot give to Arturo what any American man can choose to give to any woman. (On September 28, 2012, just 60 days ago, same-sex, binational couples became eligible for relief from deportation from the USA through a policy change by the Department of Homeland Security. What a world.) With simplicity and directness, DotD portrays the real damage wrought by being a 2nd class citizen in your own nation.

However, DotD is not only a meditation on how place shapes love. The story of Joe and Arturo unfolds into a declaration that love can ultimately transcend the constraints placed upon us by money, power, and origin. The novel is a romance because it believes in love’s capacity to empower us to go beyond the qualities that define us. A realist would say that history repeatedly demonstrates that love cannot transcend the limitations placed upon us by others. Romeo and Juliet, for example, certainly learned this lesson.

But the kind of tragic, overheated, adolescent love exemplified by Romeo and Juliet is just the kind of love that Joe and Arturo do not have. Their love matures and develops from the real tests that often challenge adult relationships. Can they learn to make time for one another when their work schedules are incompatible? Can Arturo have patience with Joe’s inability to make decisions? Can Joe accept that Arturo likes to drink more than Joe would like? Can Arturo adapt to his resentment that Joe has freedoms in the US that he does not. The answers to these questions evolve as the couple evolves, just as such answers should.

The commonplace nature of their love only renders the author’s descriptions of it more profoundly beautiful.  At one point, Arturo says to Joe, “I know this place is ours because I have faith in you.” What could be a more perfect declaration by a partner to his beloved? Or this: “We made love that early morning. We didn’t make it, actually it was already there between us. We found it, remembered it, and revived it.”

Can anything truer be said about love or stated more beautifully? I hope you enjoy Day of the Dead, if you choose to read it. Like love, it’s more than worth the effort it demands.




    • Thanks, Lady M. I hope you enjoy Day of the Dead and that my influence on your TBR was not in vain! After you’re done, I’d love to know what you thought of the novel.

  • Hey Stuart and all those who commented:

    First off, thank you for your kind words. Reading your review and the comments that it spurred was truly an enjoyable, emotional moment. In truth, I hadn’t set off to write something really “deep,” though, perhaps because of my 15 years living in Mexico, I can’t help but project some of the issues that affect people so profoundly.

    One critic said that the book truly isn’t a romance. Yet, besides needing some sort of qualifier on the title I chose, I am glad that Stuart understood the sense of romance I tried to get across. Somewhere inside me, I believe in the good of people and the power of love, despite the uphill battles so many of us are constantly confronted with. Not a HEA, but an ending that I don’t think will disappoint…not a downer by any means, I hope.

    Do enjoy. Thanks again. And please stop by my website if you get a chance. My latest blog spoke to some of the inspiration for the story. Happy Holidays!

    • Hi Erik, I’m so glad you enjoyed the review. DotD gave me so much to contemplate, I am glad I could give something back. I was wondering, does Arturo’s character embody your personal theology or did you write him that way to serve the structure of the novel?

      • I’ll tell you…I was raised as a Christian, but gave it up during adolescence. I was a definite atheist. However, now in my old age (LOL–42 years, but sometimes it feels like it) I have come to be quite open to spirituality, particularly as it meets the needs of an individual. There are so many instances of damage and hatred based on religious beliefs, so I refrain from suscribing to any, but I understand the need to yield at times to a higher power, whatever that many mean. Long answer, right? I guess Arturo represents one way that I might think of the afterlife. I’ll have to tell you for sure after I get there. I wrote a blog on it…here’s the link:

  • Stu

    I mentioned to you when I saw this review in draft, that I thought it was almost as exquisite as the book. 🙂 You piqued my interest so I’ll put it on my TBR.

    I don’t mind stories with no HEA as long as there’s something hopeful to be gained from the story which I believe you implied.

  • Thanks for the kind words! :blush: It’s easy to write about something so clearly excellent. I hope Erik Orrantia comes by and sees it.

  • Thanks, Stuart, for shining a well-deserved spotlight on Erik Orrantia. His evocation of place and exploration of the lives of ordinary people are unparalleled.

    Normal Miguel is a gem of a book. Now I have this one to look forward to. 🙂

    • Thanks Bryant! I’m so glad you enjoyed it. Look forward to a new one called Barbacoa…I’m putting the finishing touches on the manuscript now:)

  • This sounds interested. I have not read any books by this author and I am wondering if this is a good one to start with. I don’t need HEAs in general but the description and review of the book makes it sound a little too heavy for my heart. I do appreciate that you tell readers that it is not your “common” mm romance book.

    I just read the description for Normal Miguel and I think I will start there with this author and move to this one from there. Thanks for bringing him up to my attention though. His books sounds like good reads.

    • Hi Mercedes, I hope you enjoy Normal Miguel, it won the 2010 Lambda Literary Award for Gay Romance. After you read Day of the Dead, I’d love to hear your thoughts about the book!

  • Hi Stuart. I really enjoyed reading your review. I have read Normal Miguel and Taxi Tojo by this writer and really loved both books. Taxi Tojo especially dealt with some heavier social issues facing Mexican citizens and I loved reading about it. I have to ask though-does this book at least end on the hopeful note? No matter how much I enjoy his writing I do not think I am going to enjoy reading the book which seems to be about trying to mo e on from losing a loved one if it ends tragically. Thanks Stuart.


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I live with my husband and our boxer dog in the beautiful Hudson Valley. If only I loved nature as much as I love a good book!
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