Author: Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Original Publication: 2012
Rating: 4 STARS
Fiction | 222 pages | Published by Cinco Puntos Press
I‘ve always shied away from short story collections because I prefer the nuance and depth writers can provide in a novel hundreds of pages long, as opposed to the few dozen pages or less of short stories. I recognize this as a failing on my part because surely I’ve missed out on great works of literature merely because they happen to be short story collections. Fortunately, Benjamin Alire-Sáenz has thoroughly convinced me that a short story can also be incredibly powerful and nuanced.
The seven stories that make up the collection are all excellent in their own right. They all center around Mexican-American protagonists who are flawed, are in trouble, or are trouble. The stories are about addiction, loss, dysfunctional families, abuse, coming of age and identity.
Before you consider reading this book (and you certainly should), please be aware that most of the stories have tragically sad endings. However, they are individually beautiful and poignant. So much so that I admit to have cried while reading a few of them.
I want to discuss a couple of the standout stories:
“He Has Gone To Be With The Women” begins the collection with an ostensibly romantic tale of two men who fall in love, one who lives in El Paso and the other in Juárez, Mexico. The towns border each other, but Juárez is one of the most violent cities in the world and Javier adores his town too much to abandon it. The story is only a little over 30 pages long, but it takes us through the beginning and end of Javier and Juan Carlo’s tragic relationship.
“The Rule Maker” is definitely my favorite of the bunch. In it, we follow Max, a young boy who lives in Juárez but is left to live with his estranged father in El Paso after his irresponsible mother can no longer take care of him. His father, is the titular “Rule Maker.” He is a man who lives dangerously and is deep in illegal activity, nevertheless he truly wants what is best for Max and creates rules for his benefit. Max adheres to these rules –such as to “Make straight A’s at school,” and “go to church on Sundays” –steadfastly, and as the years pass, both men learn to love each other in their own imperfect ways.
Other standout stories narrate the lives of beautiful siblings whose futures prove to be as disastrous as their deeply flawed parents’ futures, and a teenager who falls in love with a schoolmate who must leave his hometown due to an abusive father.
Thanks to Benjamin Alire-Sáenz, I will be more open to reading short story collections because here he created stories that profoundly resonated with me. Lucky for me, he is a prolific writer, so I’ll be sure to read some of his works poetry, another genre that I read reluctantly. He might just win me over on that front as well!