cover image The People Who Report More Stress: Stories

The People Who Report More Stress: Stories

Alejandro Varela. Astra House, $26 (256p) ISBN 978-1-66260-107-1

Varela follows up The Town of Babylon, a finalist for the National Book Award, with a searing collection about gentrification, racism, and sexuality. In “An Other Man,” a queer Latinx man, restless in his relationship, gets permission from his partner to use dating apps. In “She and Her Kid, Me and Mine,” a Salvadorian Columbian father deals with a series of microaggressions during his son’s playdate with a classmate, whose white mother denigrates his parenting skills and pays his small apartment a backhanded compliment, one that stings especially as the mother is part of a wave of gentrifiers in their Brooklyn neighborhood. Slights also figure into “The Great Potato Famine,” in which the Latinx narrator struggles to hail a cab in Midtown until his white boyfriend steps in. “Midtown-West Side Story” features a Latinx couple who, hoping to buy a house in the suburbs and send their kids to Catholic school, supplement their meagre income from service jobs with a side hustle fencing stolen luxury clothing. Many of the atmospheric entries sting with a quick one-two, with Varela following up an unsettling racist encounter with wry commentary (after the narrator of “The Great Potato Famine” gets into a white cabbie’s car, he reflects on the driver’s icy manner: “This is what you get for leapfrogging someone in the hierarchy, for inverting the power dynamic”). Throughout, Varela provides invaluable insight on the ways stress impacts the characters’ lives, and how they persevere. Readers will be floored. Agent: Robert Guinsler, Sterling Lord Literistic. (Apr.)