Tenorio, Lysley. “The Son of Good Fortune”, Ecco, 2020.
Mother, Son and Home
Lysley Tenorio’s “The Son of Good Fortune” is the story of an undocumented Filipino son as he deals with his relationship with his mother, an uncertain future, and the place he calls home. Excel tries to be like other
unremarkable American teenagers. When he’s not working at “The Pie Who Loved Me” (a spy-themed pizza shop) or spending time with his girlfriend Sab he carefully avoids the spotlight. Yet he knows that his family is far from normal. His mother, Maxima, had been a Filipina B-movie action star who now makes a living by scamming men online. They live with an old man who is not his grandfather; he had once been Maxima’s lifelong martial arts trainer. Several years ago when Excel turned ten, his mother shared a secret with him that he must keep forever. “We are ‘TNT’–tago ng tago,” she told him, “hiding and hiding.” In other words, Excel is undocumented and one little mistake could change his life forever.
Deciding not to deal with the paranoia and secrecy of his childhood, Excel joins Sab on a journey to a ramshackle desert town called Hello City. Living there are drifters, old hippies, and discouraged and washed-up techies who all exist outside the normal constructs of American society and Hello City gives Excel a chance to find his own way for the first time. However, after having had to be invisible for so long, he does not know what he wants to become. He does not know if it is possible to put down roots in a country where he has always been considered an outsider.
Excel is unable to forgive his mother for the life she has forced on him and so he escapes to Hello City to live freely. However, a disastrous mistake forces him back into his mother’s house where he must reconcile with the choices she made for his protection.
The tension between Maxine and Excel is felt in their whole relationship because of their status as undocumented residents. Reading about them, at times, was painful especially when they erred.
The undocumented immigrant theme is handled well and realistically. We see lives with no doctor visits, lousy jobs and apartments, poor pay, secrets, and fear. Maxine had hoped for so much more in life and even named her son according to the Filipino tradition of giving children names that suggested good fortunes to come.
Maxima’s back story is different, engaging, sometimes humorous, at times heartbreaking and it certainly affects the life of her son. Writer Lysley Tenorioexplores how one teen-ager and his immigrant mother navigate life in a world that promises everything, yet, there are people who take advantage of immigrants for their own gain. We read how the two manage each other’s expectations and dreams even though they take advantage of others.
The characters pulls us into the story of identity and ambition that is an authentic portrait of one unforgettable Filipino family. There is a lot of heart and wisdom, humor and hope here and the novel is finely constructed. Filled with detail, it gains momentum as we move to an affecting and powerful conclusion.