Orlo and Leini

Rafael Alvarez, Author
Rafael Alvarez, Author Woodholme House Publishers $14.95 (176p) ISBN 978-1-891521-07-2
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The opening sentence of Alvarez's second collection promises a piquant and quirky read; what these six sensuous tales deliver is much more. Spanning half a century in the lives of two lovers, Alvarez's tale of a junkman, Orlo, and his Greek sweetheart, Leini, crackles with jaunty lyricism and unabashed emotion. In a blue-collar neighborhood in East Baltimore, Orlo was 30 when he was first bedazzled by the sight of 17-year-old Leini eating a bowl of pigs' feet, but the teenager is soon married to a brutal man she does not love. Their clandestine affair blossoms throughout the next five decades, generating many succulent, sensual meals and quite possibly a daughter. Orlo and Leini become legendary among successive generations of neighborhood characters, who are also rendered in several stories. ""The Legend of the Velvet Room"" is set in the present day with a young reporter (Alvarez's thinly disguised alter ego) searching for Orlo and Leini's story as the plot. Alvarez's passionate storytelling reveals the beauty and poignant zest for life in this homey community, and the city of Baltimore glows through the stories in real and made-up occurrences and locations. Alvarez's craft is elegant and refined enough to read as verse, but his nonchalant treatment through smile-inducing metaphors and imagery never isolate the reader. Though much ground from his first collection (The Fountain of Highlandtown) is retraveled, this new set is a rare treat that even those with a nonadventurous palate will find delectable. (Aug.)
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