Sometimes I need three major reminders to get me to open a book I’ve been anxiously waiting to read. Who knows why, but I admit to being lost and misdirected often! So first the inimitable Mz. Jessica Hagedorn had to tell me (almost a year ago!) how “fabulous” and “original” this collection is, then a most literary friend had to actually send me the galley with the note “I think you’re going to LOVE this!” tucked into it, and then I realized APA Heritage Month is imminent and I better be ready to post some appropriate titles!
Ah, well … great things come to those who wait, because finally reading Lysley Tenorio‘s debut was a remarkable gift indeed. Of the eight stories that comprise Monstress, the eponymous opener throws together foreign cult horror flicks, a has-been (or two), and Hollywood wannbe-antics – and out of that chaos emerges a heartfelt love story of loss and (almost) redemption. Did I mention transformative?
Other standouts include “The Brothers,” in which an older brother only truly begins to understand his unconventionally rebellious younger sibling after his death; “Felix Starro,” which achingly follows a young man’s realizations about his grandfather’s ‘faithful’ business; and “The View from Culion,” about two Americans being cared for on a leper colony and the stories they carefully choose to reveal about their lives to one another. The penultimate story, “Save the I-Hotel,” gets the personal favorite nod: on the eve of the forced closing of the legendary I-Hotel in what was once San Francisco’s Manilatown, two old-timers recall their many intertwined decades together, and the secrets and regrets they never shared even now at the twilight of their lives.
Tenorio is both a fierce and gentle storyteller. Each of his eight stories here deal with betrayal and humiliation, and yet his ability to show unguarded, vulnerable moments of humanity are insistent reminders of our deep relationships with one another; even when those bonds are trampled and wounded, connections linger and never fully disappear. In spite of the monster/monstress in us all, even the most tenuous links with lovers, parents, siblings, friends, strangers, eventually (hopefully) bring us back to our humanity.