YXTA MAYA MURRAY
University of Nevada Press
$26.00 hardcover, available now
The Publisher Says: The gripping, thought-provoking stories in Yxta Maya Murray’s latest collection find their inspiration in the headlines. Here, ordinary people negotiate tentative paths through wildfire, mass shootings, bureaucratic incompetence, and heedless government policies with vicious impacts on the innocent and helpless. A nurse volunteers to serve in catastrophe-stricken Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria and discovers that her skill and compassion are useless in the face of stubborn governmental inertia. An Environmental Protection Agency employee, whose agricultural-worker parents died after long exposure to a deadly pesticide, finds herself forced to find justifications for reversing regulations that had earlier banned the chemical. A Department of Education employee in a dystopic future America visits a highly praised charter school and discovers the horrific consequences of academic failure. A transgender trainer of beauty pageant contestants takes on a beautiful Latina for the Miss USA pageant and brings her to perfection and the brink of victory, only to discover that she has a fatal secret.
The characters in these stories grapple with the consequences of frightening attitudes and policies pervasive in the United States today. The stories explore not only our distressing human capacity for moral numbness in the face of evil, but also reveal our surprising stores of compassion and forgiveness. These brilliantly conceived and beautifully written stories are troubling yet irresistible mirrors of our time.
I RECEIVED A DRC FROM THE PUBLISHER VIA NETGALLEY. THANK YOU.
My Review: Powerhouse writing. There are no wasted words in these stories. There are Spanish words, and that will sit poorly with some readers...I characterize those readers as lazy or racist or both...but understand this: those Spanish words are in exactly the place that no English or French or German word could fit.
I'll use the time-honored Bryce Method and give thoughts on the stories as they come.
Miss USA 2015 is the reminiscences of a retired pageant coach, a person of flexible gender (depending on where we are in their life story, the pronouns change) and impeccable talent for spotting and curating talent for the beauty-pageant industry that has served many in good stead. It takes a sharp and unsparing eye to see the chances a child has for success, and it starts with the family:
The older one was dark and the younger one came out lighter, but they both had the same round, grumbly faces. The mother looked exhausted, and no wonder, with the two sons and then this one with the attitude.
Never forget, for even a second, the existence and cost of racism within as well as from without the disadvantaged group. Children are graded by their families on skin color. The lighter-skinned ones are often favored, but frankly that's not the point. The fact of a family judging its members by where they fall on some made-up color bar is appalling and real. Our pageant coach, being older than these kids and their parents, has an even greater investment in that system as it has made them a living from gatekeeping others. And a transgender person being in that position is, well, unique and risky. The story's most unsettling passages come from the falling-in-love that a coach and a star performer must live in order to get to the very top of their field.
She thumped around this way and that but all the time smiling at me like she could eat me down to the bones and still want more.
The hunger for success, the desperate need for a way out has led many a hopeful into bad, dark places. The coach knows this.
And that's the thing that I want you to know if you want to train with me and my team, is that it's easy to get confused. There's so much nastiness. What you tell yourself is that evil in this business all belongs to other people but that doesn't make you one of their whores. You play ball and survive, but you can keep your soul pure.
No, you can't. And the ways you can fail far exceed the number of ways you can succeed, especially when there are so many people pulling you down. 4.5 stars