At the beginning of Cris Mazza’s latest novel, Homeland (Red Hen Press), 41-year-old Ronnie is a nurse’s aide at a geriatric hospital, where her father is a resident. But the hospital is being privatized and the Medicare patients booted, so Ronnie gives notice, figuring it’s a good time to help her father fulfill a promise made to her long-dead mother. Homeschooled and from a supremely self-sufficient family, Ronnie feels like she’s never really had a life of her own, and as she sets out on her adventure she soon encounters peril. But after a hero–an advocate for migrant workers–enters the picture, she learns to find the courage and confidence to challenge herself as well as the social injustices she sees. Mazza, who teaches in the Program for Writers at UIC, draws on the physical and personal terrain of her 2003 memoir, Indigenous: Growing Up Californian, to lyrically evoke the flora and fauna of the southern California countryside and explore themes of guilt, atonement, filial duty, and home. (Ronnie’s attempts to communicate with her stroke-afflicted dad make for fascinating reading.) Though there’s a political agenda at play that’s often broadly painted (migrant workers = good; spoiled rich kids = bad), politics are, after all, part of the characters’ personae, and Mazza’s treatment is subtle enough not to be oppressive or pedantic. Mazza will read from Homeland at 6 PM on Friday, April 16, at Barbara’s Bookstore, 1218 S. Halsted, 312-413-2665. Joining her will be poet and fellow UIC teacher Anne Winters.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/James Comunale.