Archive for the ‘short stories’ Tag

Latina Connections   Leave a comment

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The collection of short stories comprising Sabrina & Corina by Kali Fajardo-Anstine are lush in their details. The related narratives focus on Latina characters set mostly in Colorado, largely in Denver. Family traditions, gentrification, addiction, abuse and hope figure in most of the stories.

The author creates a vibrant, albeit struggling, community. It comes as no surprise that a character’s name surfaces more than once. An aunt casually mentioned in one story is the focus of another.

The title is one of 11 tales and among the most poignant. Sabrina and Corina are cousins who were close as children but, as they got older, grew apart. On the surface there are easy answers such as Sabrina’s beauty, an absent father or access to drugs. Yet, it’s more complicated as Corina reflects on the relationship with her cousin through the years and the choices each made – or was made for them.

“Julian Plaza” is another stand-out. A mother diagnosed with cancer is sent to live in a private home while her two young daughters and their father attempt to continue their usual routines. The father is a custodian at a senior care center, Julian Plaza. Cora, the older sister, knows her father sells goods stolen from people who die at the center to pay for their mother’s care. What’s most striking about this story is the optimism that builds like a roller coaster when their girls attempt to bring their mom home. Of course, there’s always a downside to those rides.

Sabrina & Corina
Four Bookmarks
One World. 2019
212 pages

Time to Let Go   2 comments

Chestnut Street

Maeve Binchy died in 2012. Since then, two posthumously published works made their way to readers. And as much as I’d like to keep reading her poignant, if often overly-sentimental, stories, enough is enough. I previously reviewed A Week in Winter here. It was typical Binchy full of coincidences, lessons learned and colorful characters; it was fun to read. Unfortunately, I am less enthralled by Chestnut Street, a collection of unrelated vignettes – or chestnuts, if you will.

Like her more complete novels, Binchy’s characters reflect humor and insight into human failings and triumphs. The stories touch on lost loves, personal sacrifices and family relationships. However, the residents of this fictional neighborhood need further fleshing out. Obviously, that’s not going to happen.

The title, Chestnut Street, is what ties everything together, but the strands are too loose. The collection reads as if someone simply went through and identified a place to insert the name of the fictional Dublin road. It doesn’t work. All the characters share an address, but no one has a connection to anyone else. The stories are short, more like sketches. Just because they bear a faint semblance to her style, doesn’t mean they’re book-worthy. What’s next, a compilation of her shopping lists or recipe file?

Binchy was prolific. My suggestion is to read the works she completed, and if you have already done. Start over. That will be far less disappointing than trudging along Chestnut Street.

Chestnut Street
Two-and-a-half Bookmarks
Alfred A. Knopf, 2014
368 pages

Puzzled by the Hype   Leave a comment

TenthDecember

Satirical, dark, contemporary and poignant are apt descriptions of the 10 short stories by George Saunders, in a collection entitled Tenth of December. Consistent and pleasing, on the other hand, don’t make my list.

Writing in multiple voices, Saunders’s edge dulls by the end of the collection: too much anguish, disappointment and loss.  However, “Victory Lap” and “Puppy” tug at the soul. The narrators are very aware of what is missing in their lives. Saunders nails the internal struggles of the main characters. “Victory Lap” features two teens whose inner voices are imaginative, rebellious and forthright – unlike their true personalities. Kyle is a teenage boy grappling with whether or not to come to the aid of his next door neighbor as she’s being abducted. Before the inner struggle ensues, he cops an attitude toward his parents, extreme control freaks. This explains Kyle’s reluctance: his parents are likely to be disappointed at what others will perceive as heroism. Although it may not seem like a likely place for humor to reside, this is a laugh-out loud story. Saunders creates tension and humor effortlessly.

“Puppy” carries that same unlikely combination, but this time with a mother as narrator trying to appease her overindulged children. Spoiled kids, grown kids who make poor choices, parents who make bad decisions and adults knowing they need to do better with their lives are among the characters Saunders creates. They’re not people I want to know. Perhaps therein lies the problem: they are, in fact, all around us.

Tenth of December
Not-quite Four Bookmarks
Random House, 2013
251 pages