By Luis Negrόn
Seven Stories Press
Imagine living on an island, landlocked and festering with dirty laundry. In “Mundo Cruel” by Luis Negrόn, translated by Suzanne Jill Levine, you’ll get a little taste.
Once not too long ago, Santurce, Puerto Rico was known as Cangrejos, which meant Crabs. For such a small neighborhood, that name might have been fitting, since the buildings, people, the heat, smells, the noise and the gay bars were constantly scrabbling up against one another.
Santurce is where a boy can be raised thinking he’s The Chosen One. He can become a prophet, the future leader of a church, a most beloved son of God. And he can fall from grace in the time it takes to lower his pants in a men’s restroom. He can fall from grace in the eyes of everybody except the pastor, who looks upon the boy with lust.
It’s where beautiful macho men lie to get what they want and the trick is really (sometimes literally) on the man who gives it to them. It’s where money can be owed for a long time and getting it back can be impossible, which doesn’t stop some people from trying. It’s where a father gradually starts to notice that his youngest son is an awful lot like the boy’s uncle and since the uncle is gay, there’s sudden, cautious acceptance all around.
People gossip in Santurce, over the fence and about a neighbor’s child who seems rather effeminate. People are murdered there and crime scenes are somehow humorously made worse by an attempt at subterfuge. People die in Santurce, and they lie about whom they really are.
At a mere 90-some pages, “Mundo Cruel” has got to be one of the skinniest books I’ve read in a long time. It’s one of the oddest, too.
Through a series of short stories — many of which leave the reader hanging in the most uncomfortable ways — author Luis Negrόn gives readers a feel for the kind of community where close-knit, kindred residents have lived together long enough to intensely dislike one another. That, of course, can lead to a few funny scenarios and at least one that ends in heartbreak. With these better-told tales, Negrόn does an exceptional job in presenting small-town life with all its snarkiness and back-handed support.
The good stories make up fully half the book which means, because of the size of it, there isn’t much to endure of the lesser ones. Indeed, “Mundo Cruel” is a tiny collection of tales, but it’s a decent eyeful.