A debut series of short stories set in locations around the world and told from a wide range of perspectives.
At the start of this collection, Hagen depicts the points of view of several different people who’ve come into contact with an unruly, seductive young man named Juan. His mother, her friends, and a girl he knows give their impressions and tell anecdotes about his selfish behavior; Juan also speaks for himself, at one point citing a moment of regret. The characters all relate their stories as if they’re responding to unseen questions, and it’s a style that’s maintained throughout the book; the first-person narrator of “The River,” for instance, describes two gruesome, untimely deaths in his village in the present tense. These two stories both feature compelling voices and intriguing ideas. However, they also feel fragmented, more like half an interview than a complete narrative. Hagen’s descriptions also make their context elusive; the locations may feel foreign to Americans or Europeans, as they feature islands, huts, and monsoons, but the text never gives readers a definitive sense of place. Other stories rectify these issues as they revisit similar themes with much more depth. In “Alfredo,” for example, an old man offers a European traveler details of life in Havana, including roaming packs of hungry dogs, long lines for the bus, and classic cars. The main character of “The Paradise Island” finds himself in a humorous but troubling predicament involving marriage customs in Bali. The shifting perspectives in “The Door” show how two people in love can have completely different ideas about the same situation. In these three standouts, each character has something engaging to offer readers, and the author fleshes out their worlds with concrete details to offer clearer understandings.
A collection of intriguing characters too often situated in disjointed narratives.