There is no place to run
The nine stories that make up Luis Negron’s debut short story collection Mundo Cruel are each immediate and intense. Exploring the lives of subjects who all live in or around the barrio of Santurce, San Juan, Puerto Rico, each tale plunges the reader head first into a life in crisis and offers them a shotgun seat on a ride along to see how things will turn out. Much like real life, the results aren’t always pretty. Happy endings seem few and far between, but the voices here ooze with authenticity and each of the stories is hard to shake.
In some ways reading Negron’s Mundo Cruel is comparable to reading the Junot Diaz National Book Award nominated This is How you Lose Her. Both are short stories collections (the most obvious comparison), both present tales involving characters of a specific ethnicity as their subject (for Diaz it’s the Cuban American male) and both feature sex at the core of their stories (Diaz heterosexual, Negron homosexual.) That’s where the similarities end however.
Diaz’s collection ultimately fails because once you peel away the sex there’s nothing remotely interesting left underneath. While Negron’s succeeds because yes, its stories almost always feature sex or erotic situations, but wisely they’re never quite the focal point.
In This is How you Lose Her, Diaz’ fictional subject Yunior is a heterosexual male that wants to sleep with any and every woman he meets. That’s about all that defines him. In the world of Mundo Cruel, sex serves as a highly charged atom that defines a single piece of each subject, but never their entire being. Negron’s characters are so multidimensional that you almost believe it possible to reach into the pages of his tales and offer them some quick advice or stern words of warning. Perhaps the relatability they possess is the scariest part of these tales. The fact that these people could be our friends, our loved ones, or even us, elevates Negron’s work beyond the realm of pure entertainment. There are lessons to be learned here. As to be expected, some are painful. Others however are funny, uplifting, and beautifully redemptive.
In the collection’s opening tale The Chosen One, a young male who was anointed at an early age grows up to discover that he likes having intimate encounters with members of the same sex. His parents, as expected, aren’t overjoyed.
For Guayama documents a series of increasingly desperate letters written from one friend to another begging for money…so he can stuff his dead dog. It ends nowhere good.
Botella take a hard look at a world full of suicide, murder, and false accusations. Turns out that sleeping with men on the side can put a strain on your relationship with your wife.
So Many and La Edwin both deal with gossip and the negative effects it can have on a community. People in glass houses never had it so good.
These are very short descriptions of some of what’s waiting to discovered inside Mundo Cruel. To give away more would be to destroy the enjoyment that comes from reading these masterful stories.
It’s a cruel world after all…or is it? Ultimately it all comes down to what you make of it for yourself. Wisely Negron gives the reader the necessary space to do just that.
By Luis Negron
Translated from the Spanish by Suzanne Jill Levine
Seven Stories Press