“It wasn’t the words that mattered. It was me. I mattered. So now I would have to fight to translate myself back into the world of the living.”
Benjamin Alire Saenz’s collection of seven short-stories is centered on various dark issues. But they all have one location in common: the Kentucky Club in Juarez, Mexico. The stories deal with immigration, the Mexican-American border, racism, homosexuality, addictions, and family issues. The writing style is in Saenz’s usual lyrical prose that both Nicole and I like to think of as “less is more.” He doesn’t bother with insignificant details; instead, he allows the reader to form their own image.
- He Has Gone to be With the Women
Isis: This story was my favorite. It was gripping and gut-wrenching. It follows a writer who has been through a lot, and one day he makes conversation with another man while they’re in line at a Starbucks. I have a strong feeling that this story’s main character is actually the author himself. I can totally get why he would do that, write himself into his story. Sometimes you have to do that. It’s therapeutic, and it can also make a pretty fucking fantastic story.
Nicole: I liked this story a lot. It took me through a lot of emotions without feeling empty after I finished. I liked the characters and the small but full storyline. It was a good start to the book.
- The Art of Translation
Isis: This story was the hardest to read, in my opinion. It deals with a Mexican boy who is recovering after an awful, racist attack. The vagueness around his attack really kept me wondering what they had really done to him, and it only helped to hurt me more. I can’t even explain to the degree that I hurt for him, and for me to some extent.
Nicole: This story was really sad, but something about the boy’s rambles annoyed me. He kept asking questions, and I was waiting for answers that never came. He had a lot of thoughts on words though that I particularly enjoyed. I did not like the ending. I felt like there was part of the story I didn’t get to read to understand the whole thing completely.
- The Rule Maker
Isis: This one was a bit lighter. It follows a young boy whose mother may or may not be a prostitute. His mother decides to move him across the border from Mexico to America, where she leaves him with his never-before-met father. His father gives this boy all sorts of rules to follow, and that is just what the boy does. Honestly, this was one of my favorites. How absolutely beautiful and sweet and emotional. It broke my heart and repaired it moments later. So, so good.
Nicole: I liked the character in this one the most out of all the characters in the book I think. (Spoiler Alert)I want to know more about his mom though. Was she also a drug dealer? A prostitute? Did she know the dad was a drug dealer? Besides that, it was a really good story that left me satisfied at the end.
- Brother in Another Language
Isis: This story deals with absent parents, mental issues, homosexuality, and a whole lot more. I think this is the story I liked the least. None of the characters stayed with me, and I couldn’t understand their actions.
Nicole: This one was a bit difficult to get through. I felt like I was missing a key piece to the story. Charlie, the main character, was hard to get to know or like. Nothing was explained enough for my liking.
- Sometimes the Rain
Isis: This was a very gripping story. It deals with two boys in high school who become unlikely friends during troubled circumstances. Half of the time I wasn’t sure where it was going, but there were some pretty remarkable characters. I think it’s kind of a coming of age tale, and I feel like the moral of the story was to cease the moment, go with your gut, before it’s too late.
Nicole: This was a nice story but throughout it I was left wondering. There was an analogy (I guess) throughout that confused me, and made me think it was another kind of story altogether.
- Chasing the Dragon
Isis: I don’t like reading about drug addictions. I just don’t. They feel the same and it annoys me to have to go through the same process repeatedly. But this story still lives on in my mind. I forgot it was a story about addiction. It was so good. The siblings had this really close relationship and I think that’s what made it work for me. The family theme. I’d never heard of the term “chasing the dragon” but it really stuck with me. It had me thinking about myself and wondering what my dragon is.
Nicole: This story was my least favorite. I wanted to shake these characters: the mom, Conrad, Carmen. I wanted yell at them that they weren’t some untouchable beautiful object, living to be mysterious, to be sad, to be whatever weird thing their mind was warped with. They weren’t as interesting as they thought they were. By this point of the book, I was sick of these “different” characters that weren’t like anybody else, that didn’t think like anybody else.
- The Hurting Game
Isis: Quite possibly the most lighthearted of all the stories. And one of my favorites. Tom and Michael were my favorite couple because they had a very odd dynamic. It wasn’t anything new, but it really drew my attention. I could relate to both of them so much actually. Tom was very outgoing. He was easy to like. Michael was serious, but I really enjoyed his personality. He seemed to know what he was doing with his life.
Nicole: I liked this one a lot so I’m glad I got to the book ended on a good note. I didn’t feel like this story had any repeat themes from the other ones, and I really like the characters. I don’t know, this one might have been my favorite.
So there you have it. Our thoughts may have mirrored each other at time while also being vastly different at other times. But at the end of the day we could agree that Benjamin Saenz’s short story collection was a worthy read that we would recommend to others to read.