Alex Temblador’s latest novel, Half Outlaw (Blackstone Publishing, 2022), is a hell of a ride. The story follows Raqi (pronounced “Rocky”), a successful LA attorney in her 30s, as she grapples with grief, trauma, relationships, and her profoundly complicated family, who are members of the Lawless, a drug-running, gun-dealing motorcycle club. As your friendly neighborhood poet, I’ll be honest: I don’t read many novels, but this book’s heartrending characters, cross-country trek, and magical realism had me hooked.
The novel shifts back and forth between Raqi’s present, which is set in 1990, and her upbringing, which spans the 1960s and 1970s. Raqi’s parents were killed in a car accident when she was 4 years old, and she was placed in the care of her Uncle Dodge, a member of the Lawless. Raqi is half Mexican and half white, and Temblador does not shy away from depicting the racism and misogyny Raqi experiences among the Lawless. When the story opens, Raqi believes she has left the motorcycle club behind, but she is drawn back into their world when her Uncle Dodge dies, and it is revealed that she has a living Mexican grandfather. Raqi embarks on a “Grieving Ride” to honor Dodge and obtain the information about her family she desires. The book’s dedication reads: “For Mixed kids…This story is for you.” Temblador expands on this vision in the acknowledgments, stating, “I sought to better understand the dynamics of love, hate, privilege, and power in the family structure, particularly how it relates to Mixed people and especially those who are half white.” As we ride with Raqi from California to Texas, we meet a cast of surprising characters with varying intersections of identities, and Raqi reckons with her identity, her past, her present, and the possibilities of her future.
Raqi tells us that “Motorcycle clubs like the Lawless were chapters left out of books, so they wrote their own with rubber and asphalt” (61). In my conversation with Temblador, she told me about the meticulous research that went into the book’s complex and authentic depiction of a culture many folks only know about through tropes in storytelling. In our Inner Moonlight episode, you can hear Temblador expand on the research she conducted, including earning her motorcycle license. Temblador is equally meticulous in creating characters who are never solely heroic or villainous. It’s true that Raqi’s early life is filled with violence and trauma, but there are also moments of tenderness, connection, and care. Raqi is just as complicated as everyone else in the book—she is smart and confident, but also guarded and sometimes catastrophically impulsive. These elements make for a fascinating and immersive experience.
The magical realism throughout this book sets it apart and offers another intriguing layer. Images of skulls recur throughout the narrative, and they are almost always alive: “I took careful time pouring over the center patch [of Dodge’s black leather vest]—a motorcycle with a skull in the middle, tongue out in a salacious jeer. Rubbing my fingers over the skull awakened it from slumber. Its empty sockets looked around wildly until it saw me and calmed. The skull whipped its tongue inside its mouth for just a second, then flicked it out and licked my hand from the bottom of my palm to the tip of my fingertips. Its tongue was rough like worn tires embedded with metal nails, glass, and dirt. It marked me as one of its own until I died” (35). These moments are poetic, beautiful, and often unsettling, and as a poet, I absolutely loved it.
Like I said, I don’t read many novels, but I am so glad I read this one. I highly encourage you to check out Temblador’s Inner Moonlight episode to hear her read one of my favorite moments, and of course, you should pick up a copy of Half Outlaw for yourself.
Podcast episode: https://spotifyanchor-web.app.link/e/49KbslOPbwb
Logen Cure is a queer poet and professor. She curates Inner Moonlight, the monthly podcast reading series for The Wild Detectives in Dallas. She's an editor for Voicemail Poems. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Her debut full-length poetry collection, Welcome to Midland (Deep Vellum Publishing, 2021) was shortlisted for the Reading the West Book Awards. She lives in Dallas-Fort Worth. Learn more at www.logencure.com.