by Adlo Alvarez
Published by Graywolf Press
Published August 1, 2001
Fiction (short stories)
208 pgs. • Find on Amazon.com
Reviewed by Stephen O. Murray
June 26, 2002.
The individual stories in short-story collections, even Dubliners, vary in quality or at least in interest. Puerto Rico-born academic Aldo Alvarez edits the gay fiction e-zine Blithe House Quarterly in addition to writing his own short fiction. Some of his stories collected in Interesting Monsters (2001) are “experimental” in the pejorative sense (failed experiments), but his more realist works are not only carefully constructed but often moving and sometimes hilarious.
“Death by Bricolage,” “A Small Indulgence,” and “Rog and Venus Become an Item” are the failed experiments, like some of the worst “fictions” of Reinaldo Arenas, Julio Cortazar, and Carlos Fuentes. I would recommend skipping them. This leaves what might be seen as fragments of a novel, a novel told out of chronological sequence and with differing narrators, including that of a homophobic social-climbing San Juan realtor who gets her comeuppance.
Reordered, the stories of Mark and Dean (separately and together) would not be a novel, and Alvarez’s arrangement of them provides some of the pleasures of readerly detection offered viewers of the film Memento.
Mark is a musician whose single album continues to have a devoted following. He has become a producer of other people’s music, but in the collection’s first story, “Heat Rises,” after a traumatic breakup, he retreats to a soundproofed attic in his mother’s house to find what his soul sounds like. He seems to succeed since his mother understands it.
Stories later in the volume, but earlier in Mark’s life, show him “fixed up” by friends on a blind date that does not go well with Dean, an antique appraiser/collector from an upper-class Puerto Rican background. They meet again and hesitantly find each other interesting at a table for misfits (from the heterosexual world order) at a wedding (“Public Displays of Affection”). A somewhat sappy courtship is the subject of “Ephemera.” Then Dean tests positive for HIV and, without telling Mark, leaves him.
In what I consider the most insightful story in the collection, “Other People’s Complications,” Mark’s straight co-producer Kip confronts Dean (as they view for a mint copy of the first Velvet Underground album at a music collectible booth) about hurting Mark. When Dean tells him that he (Dean) not Mark is sick, Kip is relieved that he does not have to care, to expend compassion:
A sense of relief crept through his shoulders. Kip couldn’t pretend to be interested in Dean’s misfortunes; it would be like betraying his solidarity with Mark, or his loyalty to his own emotions.
Another painfully honest representation of the severe limitations on reaching out is the story “Quintessence,” about an impossible relationship Dean has with Bob, a very handsome man who has a heavy-lifting job in the same company in which Dean has a white-collar one. Bob is sincere—too sincere, terminally sincere. What finishes him off as boyfriend material is that Bob considers himself an artist. He makes candles “of muddy indefinite mixed shares, or in layered color combinations or swirls that neither Mother Nature’s sense nor any art director’s book ever pretended to match,” and similarly horrible dolls, pillows, and doilies. As attractive as Bob’s body is for Dean, there ain’t no way.
However, he finds a more suitable mate in Mark, and they reunite and find a house in San Juan despite the realtor in “Property Values.”
In addition to the stories of Mark and/or Dean, there is an amusing tale of conning and detection (“Losing Count”) and a more mordantly funny tale (“Flatware”) centering on an exchange of e-mail between the mother of a student and a professor who is forced to teach Death in Venice and to defend including that work which he thoroughly despises (and Pale Fire, which he loves) to a mother playing consumer advocate.
published by CultureDose, 26 June 2002
©2002, 2016, Stephen O. Murray