Unusual culture clashes between the Philippines and the West drive this intimate and admirably controlled debut story collection.
Tenorio has a great knack for striking story premises. “Help” is narrated by a young man who’s recruited by his uncle to attack the Beatles at the Manila airport for supposedly disrespecting Imelda Marcos. “The View From Culion” is set in a leper colony where a young Filipino woman attempts to connect with a stranded American. “Felix Starro” is narrated by a young man who helps take advantage of San Franciscans with a faith-healing scam, and the heroine of the title story is an attractive actress who’s spent much of her career relegated to wearing monster costumes in junky B-movies. In each of these eight stories, Tenorio cultivates a plainspoken (but not blunt) style that recalls Tobias Wolff, and the conflicts are straightforward as well, usually dealing with lost innocence and heartbreak. The best stories add an extra layer of complexity: “The Brothers” tracks the different impacts a transsexual man’s death has on his family and his friends in the community, while “Save the I-Hotel” leaps back and forth in time to follow the tense relationship between two Filipino immigrants in San Francisco as they manage homophobia, xenophobia and the destruction of the residence hotel where they’d spent their lives. Like many young story writers, Tenorio has talent and ideas to burn, though he isn’t always certain where he wants to take those ideas. For every story like “I-Hotel” or “Superassassin,” in which a young man’s anger metastasizes into a terrifying comic-book fantasy, there are others that end with vaguely artful gestures that don’t quite clarify what has changed within the characters.
An introduction to a promising writer who knows how to get a reader’s attention, though he occasionally has trouble sticking the landing.