cover image Loverboys: Stories

Loverboys: Stories

Ana Castillo. W. W. Norton & Company, $21 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-393-03959-7

The vitality of Castillo's voice, and the fully engaged lives of her hot-blooded characters, endow her first collection of short stories with earthy eroticism and zesty humor. These 22 tales of love, lust, and Latina tradition showcase bold protagonists while investigating the substance of their lives. Despite the title, however, the lovers here are most often not boys, but experienced women, of Mexican heritage. In the title story, the essence of love's magic is slowly revealed by narrator Carmen, a bisexual would-be writer and proprietor of ""the only bookstore in town that deals with the question of the soul.'' Carmen learns how to experience love from her friends, first as she secludes herself in a primitive adobe in the desert outside of Santa Fe and later from La Miss Rose's pied a terre in Chicago's Barrio. Friendship is vital in these often hilarious, sometimes tragic and always compelling stories about love in its many different permutations, or ""multitudes,"" as one large and sexy character, Sara Santistevan, says in ""Vatolandia.'' And we're not talking about idealized romance or even great physical specimens here. The gamut includes some unattractive, emotionally misguided, pathetic or bizarre social rejects. The white loverboy wearing the Malcolm X T-shirt never laughs, only knows how to smooch gay boys in dark corners; the brawny beer-bellied guy with Pancho Villa charm leaves his wife and kids each night to tend a gay bar, and poor little Mirna sleeps in a tomb to escape the importuning of the man for whom she works. Paco and Rose have no blankets for their beds but bask in the warmth of a 25-inch color TV while they wait to trap another golden cockroach to sell to the pawnbroker. The world of Castillo's literary art resembles the cinematic bohemia depicted by Pedro Almodovar, and her inventive vignettes convey the volatile magic of such a world. Carmen says: ""I wish I could talk like my eyes can see.'' Castillo does. Author tour. (Aug.)