“When our looks are gone, we seem to no longer exist. At what age would I have to resort to using someone else’s picture, or old pictures, in the hope that I could at least give a cancellation blowjob after arriving at an unsuspecting young man’s home?” Thus muses Devon Wallace, the border patrol protagonist in Franco Ford’s novel Caution, after a potential one-night stand from an online hookup site turns out to be much older and heftier than expected. It’s a superficial point but one that could have had more gravitas if developed further minus the blowjob. Unfortunately, it’s one of many made in a novel that glosses over rather than explores the multi-leveled complications that arise from topics such as ageism, racism, homophobia and immigration. Instead, Ford’s novel focuses more on the surface level problems that arise from Devon’s struggle to trust and commit to Javier Cortez, an undocumented immigrant college student, as well as Devon’s constant struggle with his gay African-American identity, especially in the face of homophobic parents.
In between his bouts of identity and romantic crises, Devon finds solace in going out to various San Diego dance clubs with his friends and Border Patrol colleagues Rafael and Michael. Both serve as a comedic chorus, commenting every chance they get on Devon’s love life, especially after he meets Javier. Like any good romance novel friends, Rafael and Michael are reliable and conveniently helpful especially after Javier reconnects with Liz Montez, a former high school girlfriend. When Devon asks Michael to contact an ex-boyfriend who is also a police officer for information on Liz, Michael responds with “No. Hell no. I just got the feeling back in my nipples.” But he eventually and predictably relents. They are both so close and reliable to the point where they are hardly indistinguishable even though Rafael is supposed to be the “fair-skinned…baby of [the] group” and Michael “the classic example of a modern day queen.” Both seem equally sarcastic and immature in many ways.
Caution sets itself up as a combination suspense/topical novel starting off at the Mexico-U.S. border, with Devon surveying the many tourists, vendors and other various denizens of Tijuana along the San Ysidro Port of Entry. He’s called on, almost immediately, to capture a couple of Mexican men trying to cross into the U.S. This first scene is one of only a few times Devon is shown working at the border and the only time he’s seen arresting undocumented immigrants. For a novel that’s ostensibly about a border patrol officer and immigration activity, his occupation figures very minimally in the story. It seems to serve as a device designed to create an artificial tension between himself and Javier.
Still, the event is significant. One of the immigrants calls him a pinche negro. According to Devon, it’s not the first time he’s called the derogatory name, but it’s one of the few times racism comes up. The only other moments are when Devon notes that Rafael is light-skinned and when Javier mentions that his late mother had more problems with Devon’s Border Patrol position rather than his being African-American.
That’s too bad because such tension between Devon and his partner would have added more complexity to their relationship. As it is, the novel barely touches on the conflict of interest inherent in Devon’s and Javier’s relationship—that of law enforcement officer and outlaw. The only time Javier’s undocumented status becomes a problem is when he travels to Los Angeles to visit family members and has to pass through the San Clemente checkpoint. But there’s no real sense of urgency or suspense since the only way Javier can get caught or deported is by acting in a “suspicious” manner given that he travels only between San Diego and Los Angeles. The need to use a fake passport never arises. With a bare trace of a Mexican accent and an American archetypal appearance Devon describes as characteristic of “’gym people’…[who] spend countless hours in the gym, taking any drug they can get their hands on…” [Is this in the book? Can it be quoted?], there’s little chance that Javier would ever get stopped. Crossing into Tijuana or anywhere else outside the U.S. would have been a riskier gamble, the stakes raised much higher.
Thus Caution lives up to its title, not only summarizing Devon’s attitude toward his relationships, but also the book’s attitude toward its themes. Plot twists including an unexpected pregnancy and an impromptu therapy session cannot prevent the predictable outcomes or make the narrative more compelling. The novel tentatively touches on weighty themes but retreats too quickly into the safe realm of wishful romance and superficial insights. More frustrating is the lost opportunity to develop the potential themes concerning racial and sexual outlaws in both American and Mexican heterocentric cultures. Hopefully, Franco Ford’s next novel will fearlessly explore these and other topical matters and throw caution very far into the wind.