LOTERA and Other Stories by Ruben Mendoza

LOTERA and Other Stories

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An energetic if uneven debut collection focusing mostly on the lives of Hispanics in modern California. As a keynot, each of Mendoza's stories uses a card from the Mexican game of Loter'a and a line from the poem accompanying that that image. The conceit is sometimes very effective. The keynote of ""El Mundo"" is a man struggling to bear the weight of the globe. The story's wealthy, self-satisfied protagonist, by contrast, has a short, unpleasant encounter with two derelicts who ask for his help and are blithely rebuffed--so that card and narrative make a nicely ironic whole, ""Entrepreneur"" features the card ""La Muerte,"" Death, and concerns the increasingly fantastic efforts of a rich businessman to outwit mortality, culminating with his takeover of a monastery. Here, Mendoza's portrait is refreshingly angry and acidic. Other stories, however, seem unsurprising and rather labored. ""Rum Cake,"" for instance, a two-page story about a woman increasingly obsessed with the saxophonist who lives across the hall, turns largely on the last line, in which the narrator, who believes that the musician fancies her, is revealed to be delusional and immensely obese. The lengthy title story, while it sketches with great care the dynamics of a deeply disturbed family, turns on a revelation of sexual abuse that is far less surprising than the author seems to intend. ""9th of October,"" tracing the conversation of two friends the night before one of them is leaving to join the Armed Forces, demonstrates a nice grasp of the nature of intimacy between friends but lacks resonance or apparent purpose. A mixed collection, then, featuring some original work (Mendoza, like many young writers, is best when angry and on the attack) but also some pieces that read more like novice exercises than art. Still, craft and energy enough to suggest that Mendoza is a writer to watch.

Pub Date: March 16th, 1998
Page count: 128pp
Publisher: Buzz/St. Martin's