cover image Family Album

Family Album

Gabriela Alemán, trans. from the Spanish by Dick Cluster and Mary Ellen Fieweger. City Lights, $15.95 trade paper (120p) ISBN 978-0-87286-882-3

Ecuadorian writer Alemán’s sparkling collection (after the novel Poso Wells) brims with humor and adventure. In the poignant “Baptism,” an unnamed bartender and expert on Alexander Selkirk, inspiration for the Robinson Crusoe character, befriends Max, an 81-year-old customer who convinces the narrator to take him on an underwater voyage in the Galápagos in search of Selkirk’s long-lost treasure. The shadowy narrator in “Family Outing” finds work in Ecuador escorting young, overzealous missionaries attempting to convert the native Huao people, with whom the missionaries unexpectedly end up in a violent confrontation. A widow in “Marriage” discovers her recently deceased husband isn’t the failure she always thought he was after stumbling across large bank accounts, cash, and references to children that aren’t hers, leading her on an investigation involving a nefarious notary. “Honeymoon” finds an overweight, balding real-life John Wayne Bobbitt in Buenos Aires, where he goes home with a woman he meets at a film screening and weeps while listening to her Ecuadorian records, which remind him of his ex-wife, Lorena. Alemán’s sly wit and descriptive power—Max, underwater, looks to the bartender “like a moss-covered statue from an ancient civilization”—portray the beauty and ravages of South America. This dynamic collection has a lot to offer. (May)