Fragile Night

Stella Pope Duarte, Author
Stella Pope Duarte, Author Bilingual Press/Editorial Biling-Ue $14 (160p) ISBN 978-0-927534-71-0
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In Duarte's debut collection of 15 short snapshots of barrio life, the women tend to be martyrs and the men philandering ne'er-do-wells. ""Penguin's Mother"" introduces a woman who ""As far as anybody knew.... had never committed a mortal sin."" This brave and long-suffering character is all too typical of the heroines we encounter in the tales, yet Duarte makes us understand how their situations are related to cultural influences, especially the expectation that Latin women are obliged to endure their husbands' infidelities and frequent violence. One of the few stories that avoid this formula, ""The Remedy,"" is a charming tale of two sisters who won't stop bickering until their father takes them to the local curandera. Others fall short of strong opening premises, as in the title story, in which Alma's decision to stand up to her abusive husband comes too abruptly for credibility. Duarte's ambition to take on complex emotional terrain is admirable, but many of her humble protagonists remain one-dimensional, defined by heavy symbolism rather than deft characterization. (Nov.)
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