Adventures in Reading


Short Stories: Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link, 2008
December 10, 2008, 11:55 am
Filed under: book reviews, short stories | Tags: , , ,

Of contemporary short story authors Kelly Link is one of my favorites. I fell in love with her collection Magic For Beginners and was pleased to discover this most recent collection Pretty Monsters in the young adult section. The collection includes stories from her previous collections, previously published stories, and the title story “Pretty Monsters” is unique to the book. Link includes fantasy, supernatural, and horror in the book as well as zombies, teen angst, and a 200-year-old grandmother. And as always Link’s ever-precise language usage has somewhat of a haunting effect on the book.

Where Pretty Monsters stands apart from Link’s other collections is that it includes some lengthier stories in quite different styles. For example the “The Wizards of Perfil” or “The Constable of Abal” are more reminiscent and thematically similar to traditional fantasy stories while in the past her fiction has been more skewed, more surreal. Some of the longer tales have made me curious if Link is possibly considering a novel, but personally I’m satisfied with the short stories: so please keep them coming!

Conclusion: Keeper.

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Fiction: Days of Awe by Achy Obejas, 2001

Revolutions happen, I’m convinced, because intuition tells us we’re meant for a greater world. If this one were good enough, we’d settle, happy as hens, and never rise up. But we know better: We feel the urge, ardent and fallible as it may be, for a kind of continual transcendence” (italics from the original text).

Alejandro San Jose was born the day Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba and her family, like many others, left the country. And in Achy Obejas’ Days of Awe we experience Alejandro’s struggle to comprehend her family, her past, her culture, and herself as a cubana. The story covers a somewhat vague period of time in Alejandro’s adult life as she travels back and forth from Cuba and in and out of relationships.

The second book for my Lambda Challenge and, well really, just wow. Days of Awe is beautifully written and Obejas Some of my favorite passages were Obejas’ explanations of the Spanish language such as American’s use of the verb love versus the Cuban use of the verbs querer, amar, and gustar. Days of Awe explores a gamut of complexities from imperialism to Cuba’s revolution, Judaism and Catholocism, as well as thematic issues of secrecy. Obejas’s latest book Ruins is due out March of 2009.

Conclusion: Keeper.

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Nonfiction: Writing Women in Central America by Laura Barbas-Rhoden, 2003

“Weapons, plots, violence. Lush landscapes and guerrillas. Central America is a site of danger (again), but not because of its revolutions. The danger is in words–the words of women.”

If you’re interested in feminism, literary criticism, women writers, historical perspective, and/or Central America, Laura Barbas-Rhoden’s Writing Women in Central America: Gender and the Fictionalization of History is a feast of information on the Central American authors Claribel Alegría, Rosario Aguilar, Gioconda Belli, and Tatiana Lobo and how these women reinterpret history through their fictional works.

Reading Barbas-Rhoden’s book was peculiar as I’ve never read any of the authors she critiques, but I was very attracted to the subject matter and I enjoy reading literary criticism. Though people frequently ascribe a stark contrast between nonfiction and fiction, Barbas-Rhoden’s book explores how the novel disrupts and adds to historical narrative, and frequently expresses the the silent Other: often women and indigenous populations. (This idea actually played a large part in a paper I wrote about Jane Austen.)

Not being familiar with the authors that are discussed was a definite draw back in that I had no point of reference. On the other hand, Barbas-Rhoden introduced me to some great and thoughtful women writers from Central America.