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by Mayra Santos-Febres, ed.
Akashic Books, October 2016
240 pages
ISBN: 1617752967

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

As editor Mayra Santos-Febres writes, Puerto Rico brings thoughts of sandy beaches, casinos and never-ending pleasure. But for those who live there, Puerto Rico, with its economic problems, has seen a rise in crime and the black market. The stories in this anthology, unrelentingly dark, reflect the woes of the island.

The opening story, "Death on the Scaffold," by Janette Becerra, is set in one of the high-rises of a more affluent area. The narrator is a hermit, only stepping outside for groceries and other necessities. Locked away in what seems like a secure apartment, the narrator's calm world is first shattered by a painter on a scaffold, and then by a death. There's no escaping the darkness of the city.

In other stories, the narrator is a victim, a perpetrator—and sometimes both. In Santos-Febres' own story, "Matchmaking," a hit man is sent out to kill a rival crime lord—a woman. But, for the first time in his career, he finds himself unable to kill a target, and is ensnared in a trap. In "Things Told While Falling," by Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro, a man returning to his homeland of Puerto Rico spies a corpse as his plane flies over a lagoon. The passenger becomes obsessed and inserts himself into the victim's family, as he spins a story of the young woman's death.

"Sweet Feline" by Alejandro Alvarez Nieves has a tourist at the center of the story—Candy, a young, tall blonde with money to spend on everyone except for the narrator, who is embittered that she has shut him out. What goes on in this luxury hotel has a surprising twist ending.

Set as it is in Puerto Rico, with authors steeped in the Latin tradition, the stories have a common thread of sexuality and sensuality, as well as magical realism. Dreams run through these stories, and sometimes a sense that the whole story could be a dream. They are unsettling stories, to say the least. As Edmaris Carazo writes in the story "Inside and Outside": "Old San Juan is like a family member you miss right up until the moment you see them again."

After reading these stories, you may very well want to rethink that tropical vacation.

§ Lourdes Venard is an independent editor who divides her time between New York and Maui.

Reviewed by Lourdes Venard, November 2016

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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