Why did I choose to read this book?
I’m gonna be really honest and say that I thought this was a novel, and since I’ve been meaning to read Patricia Engel for a while now I requested the advance copy. I only noticed it was a collection of short stories after I was granted the advance copy. I said I wouldn’t request short stories anymore but we’re in this now so…yeah.
What is this book about?
These stories stretch across the Americas, focusing on the experiences of Latinx/Cuban/Hispanic (different populations prefer different labels so I’m including most of them here) people. You will see the immigrant experience, the patriotism of staying at home no matter the struggles, and how to find, keep, or let go of love no matter where the characters are. In almost all of the stories there is some kind of trauma to get past.
Central and South America are the areas of the world that I know the least about, so while I absolutely would not have requested this one if I had known it was a short story collection, I am glad I read it.
What is notable about the story?
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to accept when your life has taken a turn that you can’t come back from. This kind of event causes a break: a track of regret and a track of reality. The track of regret isn’t really a track, it’s more like how in cartoons they paint a road on a brick wall for Wile E. Coyote to run into. When the break happens I think we all stay at the fork in the road, slamming ourselves into that brick wall, denying that this track is no longer accessible to us. Some people live their whole lives at the break, others gather the strength to accept reality and move forward on the new path. The reality path isn’t necessarily better than regret, it’s just different.
Every story but one in this collection follows a character right up to this break and then…it ends. You’re left at the depression/disbelief/denial stage and then you’re asked to start over in a new story. I appreciated this approach very much. So many stories are about how people pick themselves up and made lemonade out of life’s lemons, but what about if the lemons are so rotten that there’s nothing to be done? I love the book club/literature discussions that could come out of each story: how would you feel if this was you? how would you move forward? what do you think life will be like for this character after the story we know ends? I believe the higher ups would call this writing thought provoking, and I agree.
Was anything not so great?
This is not a comment on Engel’s writing, just a reminder that for me, short stories are not the thing. Reading them is like riding in a car at 60mph on the highway but every ten minutes the driver SLAMS on the brakes to bring the car to a complete stop, then starts driving again. It is a testament to the quality of Engel’s storytelling that I read all of them and took an overall theme away with me, and a relatable one at that. If you like short story collections you have to pick this one up.
What’s the verdict?
4 stars on Goodreads. I’m impressed (and surprised) to give this collection my full endorsement. You would think it would be dark, but honestly it helps to know that none of us are alone in having terrible shit happen to us that we have to deal with. Relatable and excellently written – go get The Faraway World!