Monday, July 26, 2021

MIGRATIONS, stories in the Key of We


LARB Libros
$16.00 trade paper, available now

Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: In J. L. Torres’s second story collection Migrations, the inaugural winner of the Tomás Rivera Book Prize, a “sucio” goes to an underground clinic for therapy to end his machista ways and is accidentally transitioned.

Ex-gangbangers gone straight deal with a troubled, gifted son drawn to the gangsta lifestyle promoted by an emerging music called hip-hop.

Dead and stuck “between somewhere and nowhere,” Roberto Clemente, the great Puerto Rican baseball icon, soon confronts the reason for his predicament.

These stories take us inside the lives of self-exiles, unhomed and unhinged people, estranged from loved ones, family, culture, and collective history.

Despite the effects of colonization of the body and mind, Puerto Ricans have survived beyond geography and form an integral part of the American mosaic.


My Review
: Praise from Yxta Maya Murray? Say no more, send me the file! Very few authors need to worry about getting my attention who have previously gotten hers.

The author's receipt of the inaugural Tomás Rivera Book Prize is quite telling. As this isn't a Prize most of us will have encountered before, I'm going to reproduce the entire explanation offered at the LARB Books site (link is above):
The Tomás Rivera Book Prize is a unique partnership between the Los Angeles Review of Books and UC Riverside. Open to any author writing in English about the Chicanx/Latinx experience, the Rivera Book Prize is committed to the discovery and fostering of extraordinary writing by a first-time or early career author whose work examines the long and varied contributions of Chicanx/Latinx in the US. The Rivera Book Prize aims to provide a platform that showcases the emerging literary talent of the Chicanx/Latinx community, to cultivate the next generation of Chicanx/Latinx writers, and to continue the rich literary memory of Tomás Rivera, Chicano author, poet, activist, and educator. Known for his seminal collection of stories, …and the Earth Did Not Devour Him, Rivera was the first Latino Chancellor of the UC system and a champion of higher education and social justice. The Rivera Book Prize honors his legacy and his belief in the power of education, activism, and stories to change lives.

Very worthy goals, ones I'm happy to support. And as a big bonus, I found it easy and fun to do so here.

In the approved manner, I shall henceforward use the Bryce Method of short responses with ratings for the individual stories to come to an overall understanding of the author's themes and ideas.

Mint Condition proves again that we don't know the secrets our closest companions keep...some to protect us, some to protect themselves...until they no longer matter. Which is, paradoxically, when discovery hurts the most. Nikki will never know what her humiliation would've meant to Jim, whose blokey-jokey ways hid a vacancy she's only dimly sensing in their son. Saddening. 4 stars

Sucio isn't a nice thing to call a guy...but here it's just the gawd's honest truth. Our Satanic-second (person) PoV is a hound-dog, a letch, a bedbug. He reaps the whirlwind at the very beginning of the story, landing up in the hospital when he gets his latest beat-down. There, he meets Her:
You one sorry suciopath, she said, peeling off your fingers from her hand in disgust, like they were slimy slugs. Then she went on to inform you on what a miserable, pathetic, shallow piece of crap you are. Then like the genuine Heartbreaking Samurai she was, she dealt you the mortal blow.. Your wasted life is a disgrace to dying people everywhere, she said.

And just like that, the stakes change, the Prize is identified, and our chest-pokee needs his goals reset. Family, as usual, comes to his rescue (accidentally...a sucio tío needs cover for his trip to visit his side-love in the Dominican Republic, takes his pariguayo nephew). Words like pariguayo might take a little effort to learn, but damn do they enrich your word-choices and define some stuff you maybe hadn't had reason to define before. But spare a thought for our sucio...a whole lot more than his vocabulary needs to expand, open up, accommodate new and different things. The only reason I don't give this one five stars is the patness of Sari's role, and the ending. Still a vibrant 4 stars

The Operation is only the beginning of La Viuda's life of misery. After World War I, many impoverished women were sterilized with their "consent" as a means of family planning. This was a condition of her employment in the factory that had killed her husband, Facundo...lovely name, means both "eloquent" and "fertile"...and she must have a job to feed her two children. This isn't going to end well, but the quotidian disasters of Life are uncushioned for Elena la viuda. The privileged doctor's clueless but not unkind PoV felt...insulting. History often untold, worthy of attention. 4 stars

Hawaii Is Where Coquis Go To Die brings the world full circle for a Puerto Rican-Hawaiian woman whose life was about disappointment, compromise, and recreating the journeys of her source of employment/nemesis, the invasive coqui frogs that plague Hawaii with their predatorless horniness. Death always brings us home, even when like Halia we've never strayed far. The cost of bowing to the US elite without breaking is too high; returning to her father's business, building a relationship to her sister, is finally worth paying. 4 stars

Clemente Burning revivifies baseball great Roberto Clemente, whose 1972 death in a plane crash while on a humanitarian mission to Nicaragua was probably the first time in my life I'd thought about race in any critical way. We join him (and his psychopomp, Arturo Alfonso Schomburg) in, well, Otherwhere:
Now, though, after it was all over, he has grown accustomed to being stuck between somewhere and nowhere. Eerily, he's adjusted well to this limbo state, as if he had experienced it before. At first, the sensation of living in a cage without bars rattled him. If he started walking, his legs would move but get him nowhere.

It's not subtle, any of it; but it's very well crafted and tells a story I am sad to say is faded and bleached from our national conversation. It should not be. And this taste of the reality of Otherness in the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave should make you cringe while thinking about how much work there still is to do. 4.5 stars

Go Make Some Fire is our second encounter with Schomburg, and our most soulful encounter with the realities of being Other in these grim, grasping States, United only against and never for anything except profit. The horrors visited on children in Carlisle Indian Industrial School were, and are, a terrible stain we wear with our slave-owning crimes forever. "Brother, are you lost?" rings and rings in my ears. 5 stars, far and away the chef d'ouevre

Rip and Reck Into That Good Light (for Julian) doesn't spare the melodrama, but it tells us about life as it's actually lived among people old white people, like me, don't ever go out of our way to see, still less think about:
Screw the theory; bougie ideas don't mean a damn thing out here. They're like prayers with no postage. Better make your kids toe the line before their attitude lands them in jail or gets them killed. (T.J.)
We were Wild, all of us, searching for our own space., and the streets called us. We turned our backs on parents and found family with the clubs. That's what we called them, not gangs. (Koki)
You think I'm some kind of monster? Judge me all you want, 'cause I don't give a fuck. World gave up on me a long time ago. Why should I stress over what it thinks of me? You don't hurt my hurt. (Xavie)

Right about there I knew where we were headed. I wasn't wrong. It's preachy; it's reductive; it's also true. 4 stars

Grannies Gone Wild is hilarious, and poignant, and really, really angry. When you give a person your life, your heart, your name even, you think you deserve a little respect and understanding. But noooooo, as we Saturday-Night-Lived each other in our day. It feels like ingratitude and rejection because it we rejected our parents, spat curses that boiled their eyeballs, paraded our pleasure in pleasure in front of them while they worried themselves into ulcers about what would become of us. Just like their own kids will. Only hope you live long enough to watch the realization dawn. 4 stars

InWorld doubles down on the senior horndog vibe. Marv lost the love of his life, Annie, to pancreatic cancer, then his mind in the endless silence that followed. His best bud from Air Force to Post Office life, a scf fi fan and up on the cyberworld's glories, tells Marv about InWorld. (It's a lot like Second Life.) Away he goes! Marv becomes Mark Cavatelli, broad, muscular, blue-eyed; nothing like Puerto Rican Marv from the Bronx. And the strangeness is increasing, seeping in from Author Torres's mind; some entanglements and separations are quite noteworthy. 4 stars

Runway Runaway takes us the next step out, into a future where the migrations don't always make sense to us trapped in 2021...where the world we've made is the world they've got to live in. I think the speculation's just fine. I'll put it at barely 4 stars because more was there and practically sobbing to be used.

The Adventures of Macho the Dwarf, or An Allegory of Epic Proportions About a Little Person is exactly what you're promised. Take it, like it or don't; you're the one who needs this story, the story doesn't need you. There's a reader every few seconds running into the giant, miserable desert of Storylessness. You see? This is your choice, this one will fill you up. It will. Just let it. 5 stars

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