IN CUBA I WAS A GERMAN SHEPHERD
"Here in America, I may be a short, insignificant mutt, but in Cuba I was a German shepherd," Máximo explains in the first of these 11 short stories. His words are the punch line to one of countless jokes he tells to his cronies at Miami's Domino Park. The group of Cuban and Dominican immigrants gathers regularly, mostly ignoring the tourists who come to gape at the colorful old men playing dominos—only Máximo feels victimized, as if the onlookers are trivializing his life and culture, treating him like an animal in a zoo. The mixed sentiments of pride and frustration that come with adjustment to American society are common threads in this moving collection by a Cuban-American, Pushcart Prize–winning author. Many of the tales have related themes and characters, and while some are more abstract than others, all speak of the attempts of immigrants to create new lives in the U.S. In "The Perfect Fruit," Menéndez portrays Matilde's despair and jealousy when, as she contemplates what has become her own loveless marriage, her son Anselmo announces his engagement to his American girlfriend Meegan Matilde deals with her dejection by throwing herself into a cooking frenzy. But like Máximo's jokes in the first tale, her culinary storms are merely a thin mask covering a dark reality: that even in the safe haven of America, ethnic ties are strong and assimilation is something that is not necessarily easy or even desired. These stories are perhaps best not consumed all at once; read separately, they offer a telling yet bittersweet perspective on immigrant life. Agent, Amy Williams, the Gernert Company. (May)
Forecast:Menéndez's voice, falling somewhere in between the slangy eloquence of Junot Díaz and Dagoberto Gilb and the lyrical exuberance of Sandra Cisneros and Esmeralda Santiago, is a welcome addition to the chorus of Latino fiction writers. A 10-city author tour and 30,000 first printing will give her debut collection a boost.