Mundo Cruel by Luis Negrón; Spanish Edition
This is a collection of 9 short stories.
In "El Elegido," a “Chosen” evangelical candidate for baptism- which happens when he turns fifteen - narrates his homosexual adventures with the sons some of the parishioners, the minister's son, a bus conductor, a famous singer - who taught him how to smoke as he was taken to cheap motels in Caguas. The narrator is criticized for wearing effeminate white clothing to his baptism ceremony, however this makes the pastor get an erection at the ceremony and our narrator ends up in a hotel with the pastor who promises to move to Orlando with him.
In "El Vampiro de Moca" (Moca's vampire) A landlord meets a gorgeous tenant at the seven/eleven in Santurce. After fixing his studio apartment for him - air condition is added plus stolen cable service - the tenant moves in. Salivating over his tenant, the landlord stops going to gay bars in San Juan. Concerned over this, his friend, "la Carlos" comes to visit him to inquire on his whereabouts. As Carlos meets the tenant, he asks the landlord if they are dating. After a negative answer from the landlord, Carlos moves in on the tenant and the landlord is left with nothing to do but watch. "La Carlos, como yo, pensaba - este si es un hombre de verdad - y por lo que ví se le viró en la cama." Carlos, like me, thought this was a a real man, but from what I saw, he just turned around (was passive in bed).
In "Por Guayama" Guayama, a stray dog has died. The owner, Naldi, is asking Sammy, his friend, an advance of the money he's owed so that he can perform taxidermy on his beloved pet. The story is a series of notes from Naldi to Sammy in which it becomes clear that Sammy has no intentions of ever paying Naldi. Naldi ends up following Sammy to the Dominican Republic where the dog is finally stuffed. Upon returning to Puerto Rico, Naldi is arrested because the Dominicans stuffed the dogs with illegal birth certificates, social security cards, and US passports - a federal felony.
In "La Edwin," the story is a cell phone conversation between La Yola and La Jorge about the troubles that La Edwin is in. Apparently Edwin fell for a communist, Che Guevara university student type who was "bisexual" and after a brief romance the Che Guevara type leaves Edwin for a pro statehood homosexual. "Todas las locas son iguales y ustedes las jovencitas lo quieren cambiar todo de la noche a la mañana. Que si la bisexualidad, que si gay es una identidad política, buchas y locas juntas todo el tiempo, pero - entérate niña - que el mundo es mundo desde hace mucho tiempo. Y este mundo de nosotros es así." All gays are the same and you young ones want to change everything overnight. Bisexuality, gay as a political entity, femmes and butch ones together, but - be forewarned - the world has been the same for ages. Our world is that way.
In Junito A gay man is telling Junito he is moving to Boston to escape the stigma associated with being gay in Puerto Rico.
In “Bottella” (The Bottle) A cocaine addicted gay man walks into one of his older tricks named Paco, nicknamed Caneca, to find the old man dead. He panics and buys a bottle of Clorox to erase all of his DNA from the scene. Trying to explain what happened to his friend, Niebla, they go into Caneca’s house and the same man kills Niebla. Unfortunately, another of the gay man who also visits Caneca is known for carrying a bottle (Botella) of Clorox with him to prevent getting HIV. Botella becomes the main suspect and the killer and Botella go through lots of trouble to get Botella out to Boston to prevent being captured.
In “Muchos” (Many) two women, Worried Woman, and Worried also Woman, gossip about Alta’s son because he’s both gay and Dominican. It is clear that both of these conditions are stigma in Puerto Rican Society.
In “El Jardín” (The Garden), Nestito is taking care of his HIV infected lover, Willie. They live in a house in Santa Rita with Willie’s sister, Sharon. As Willie is dying he decides to have a big celebration for New Year’s Eve. We learn that Sharon has a secret: she has been dating a Sidney Poitier lookalike for over twenty years because she is afraid to marry him.
Finally, in “Mundo Cruel” (Cruel World) - the story that gives the book its title, two Condado “A homosexuals” José A. and Pachi, get a nervous breakdown because Gabriel Solá Cohen, the only owner of a purple Audi in Puerto Rico was having a full breakfast with eggs and white toast. Both of them spend all of their time at the gym and avoid eating, to the point that José A. is a bulimic. José A. goes home and calls in sick, but Pachi has to go to work. Pachi’s boss decides it’s time to have a talk on homophobia in the workplace. Pachi is petrified as sixteen of his co-workers come out of the closet. For Pachi “la patería no era asunto para promulgarse a cuatro vientos.” (Being gay was not a public thing). As they go to the gay bar that night, they are horrified by the number of lesbians in the bar, so much they have to ask the bouncer if it’s ladies night. After a negative answer, they are faced with an announcement that Ponce de León Avenue was closed because the mayor had declared gay nights in Santurce every Thursday. Pachi is able to adapt, because his childhood crush, Papote, come out that evening and takes Pachi home, but José A decides that he’ll move to Miami to prevent living with the underlings.
I was glad to read the original SpanIsh version. Most of the stories are written in phonetical Spanish, don’t think that translates too well. The feminine pronouns are used on male names to denote they are gay. Also the terms “loca” and “bugarrón” are used a lot. I guess the best English translation would be “queen” and “one who only is active in bed” but those would still miss the mark. The stories are strong on the plot, but not on character development. The country of Puerto Rico is one of the strongest characters, and places like Santurce are described in detail like on page thirty three “Santurce, Puerto Rico, antes conocido como Cangrejos, pero ya nunca más.” (Santurce once known as Cangrejos, but no more.) Most proper names are avoided. The writer wants to develop the themes and most characters are either anonymous - like Worried Women - or named after a an object - like Botella. The point of view is unclear most of the time, to the point that sometimes you don’t know who’s doing the talking.
I loved the book. These are stories of urban violence. poverty, ignorance, prejudices, stereotypes as they exist in today’s Puerto Rican reality. I was glad to see the book win the 2014 Lammy for fiction. Well deserved!