Sprawling magical realistic stories with a moral bent.

MARIA, MARIA

& OTHER STORIES

Magical realism and myth meet dystopic themes in this debut collection of short fiction set in the Americas.

Set against a backdrop of political inequities, climate catastrophes, and other crises, Rubio’s stories offer alternative ways of squaring injustices (or getting revenge), beginning with “Brujería for Beginners,” a second-person, instructional story about learning “spiritual vigilantism or expedited karma.” “Calling it black magic,” the teacher insists, “is devoid of context,” especially when the context in question is domestic abuse. Similarly, in “Tunnels,” the Fogata family, fed up with the racism and violence in 1990s California, hatches up a plot to release pigeons emitting powerful electromagnetic pulses that bring the entire Southwest to a grinding halt. A magic mirror that transports the viewer to other versions of life allows the narrator of “Carlos Across Time and Space,” one of the collection’s standouts, to picture a different death for Carlos, who was senselessly murdered at a high school graduation party. Magical possibilities compete with reason and often win, especially for characters who are ill-served by what society serves up for them. In “Burial,” another fine story, a girl who is an outcast at school because she once tried to save a hummingbird is saved twice by tigers. Rubio is an extravagant storyteller; her prose thrums with life, and her plots take hairpin turns. All of this is on full display in “Maria, Maria,” a sweeping story that leaps backward and forward in time and from perspective to perspective as it traces the fates of three women all the way back to a mythic world. Except for a few of the more formally experimental stories (“Art Show” and “Paint by Numbers”) that fall flat, this is transporting work.

Sprawling magical realistic stories with a moral bent.

Pub Date: April 26, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-324-09054-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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THE SECRET HISTORY

The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

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A welcome literary resurrection that deserves a place alongside Wright’s best-known work.

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THE MAN WHO LIVED UNDERGROUND

A falsely accused Black man goes into hiding in this masterful novella by Wright (1908-1960), finally published in full.

Written in 1941 and '42, between Wright’s classics Native Son and Black Boy, this short novel concerns Fred Daniels, a modest laborer who’s arrested by police officers and bullied into signing a false confession that he killed the residents of a house near where he was working. In a brief unsupervised moment, he escapes through a manhole and goes into hiding in a sewer. A series of allegorical, surrealistic set pieces ensues as Fred explores the nether reaches of a church, a real estate firm, and a jewelry store. Each stop is an opportunity for Wright to explore themes of hope, greed, and exploitation; the real estate firm, Wright notes, “collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in rent from poor colored folks.” But Fred’s deepening existential crisis and growing distance from society keep the scenes from feeling like potted commentaries. As he wallpapers his underground warren with cash, mocking and invalidating the currency, he registers a surrealistic but engrossing protest against divisive social norms. The novel, rejected by Wright’s publisher, has only appeared as a substantially truncated short story until now, without the opening setup and with a different ending. Wright's take on racial injustice seems to have unsettled his publisher: A note reveals that an editor found reading about Fred’s treatment by the police “unbearable.” That may explain why Wright, in an essay included here, says its focus on race is “rather muted,” emphasizing broader existential themes. Regardless, as an afterword by Wright’s grandson Malcolm attests, the story now serves as an allegory both of Wright (he moved to France, an “exile beyond the reach of Jim Crow and American bigotry”) and American life. Today, it resonates deeply as a story about race and the struggle to envision a different, better world.

A welcome literary resurrection that deserves a place alongside Wright’s best-known work.

Pub Date: April 20, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-59853-676-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Library of America

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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