cover image Urban Oracles

Urban Oracles

Mayra Santos-Febres. Brookline Books, $15.95 (208pp) ISBN 978-1-57129-034-2

Though sometimes overheated, the 15 brief short stories that comprise Febres's initial collection to appear in English are never dull. In the title story, a psychic instructs her child in the ways of reading people: ""The guardian angels reveal twenty percent of what happens, but the rest is interpretation."" The titular scent of ""Marina's Fragrance"" has a strange effect on people, particularly men, as Marina becomes aware of her ability to manipulate her odor and to express emotions in an olfactory manner. Febres often inhabits the minds of her characters to great effect. ""Stained Glass Fish"" follows the fevered thoughts of a woman who visits a lesbian bar for the first time and spots a co-worker. The protagonist of ""Abnel, Sweet Nightmare"" hurries home by bus so as not to miss her nightly ritual: watching her neighbor dress after his shower, including the occasionally thrilling glimpse of his genitals. These stories are highly sexed but never tawdry. Even ""A Normal Day in the Life of Couto Seduccion"" comes off as sexy and mythic, although it's about an enormous man who has 13 lovers who fulfill his fantasies on the second Tuesday of each month, even after one such fantasy--played out at the beach--results in the death of one of the lovers ""who, determined to kiss one of his buttocks, rolled under the immense mass, and there lost air and consciousness."" A seamless translation from the Spanish adds much to these innovative tales, which mix magical realism and gritty urban reality to memorable effect. (May)