cover image The Rock Eaters

The Rock Eaters

Brenda Peynado. Penguin, $16 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-0-1431-3562-3

Peynado probes the limits of reckoning with such dilemmas as otherness, loss, and love in her glorious debut, a collection of inventive and fabulist stories. Here, pendulous stones sprout from the body (“The Stones of Sorrow Lake”), an American-made “supertruck” takes X-rays of vehicles suspected of drug trafficking in Venezuela (“The Radioactives”), and spindly-legged, purple-faced aliens became enthralled by such unremarkable human activity as kite flying (“The Kite Maker”). Rich social commentary on immigration, xenophobia, and right-wing Christianity underlie the title story, which follows first-generation immigrants returning to their unspecified Latin American island home with the gift of flying, “blotting the sky with [their] billowing skirts... skidding to rough landings.” Their children likewise develop flying skills upon reaching puberty; however, in an ironic twist, the children devour rocks to moor themselves to the island. In “Thoughts and Prayers,” birdlike angels preside over suburban homes where those with the “best” angels are sanctified with material wealth and fortunate circumstances, but those who are “unlucky” (read non-Christian, Hindu, Indian-American) endure a slew of catastrophes: school shootings, mental illness, and job loss. The perceptive “Whitest Girl” highlights Latinx Catholic high school students’ fascination with whiteness. These alluring stories make powerful use of their fantastical motifs, enhancing the realities of the characters’ lives. The author’s skillful storytelling soars. Agent: Michelle Brower, Aevitas Creative. (May)