cover image Love War Stories

Love War Stories

Ivelisse Rodriguez. Feminist Press, $16.95 trade paper (168p) ISBN 978-1-936932-25-2

Rodriguez’s uneven debut introduces readers to a cast of characters who range from unhinged aunts to scholarship students at a private New York City high school to legendary Puerto Rican poet and activist Julia de Burgos. Rodriguez’s characters struggle with, covet, and seek to subvert their familial and cultural legacies of suffering from love. In the collection’s most structurally interesting story, “Holyoke, Mass.: An Ethnography,” an anonymous narrator responds to the publication of an ethnographic account of her hometown by providing her own, truer version: interweaving the story of Veronica, a girl featured in the ethnography, with the cultural and industrial history of Holyoke. However, though ambitious, the conceit isn’t carried all the way through—as a result, the two strands don’t come together convincingly. The two standout stories are “Summer of Nene,” which fully inhabits the voice of a young Puerto Rican boy dealing with his burgeoning sexuality, including an affair with his chronically ill male friend, as well as interest from the hottest girl in his class; and “The Belindas,” in which Belinda comes face-to-face again with the charming, handsome, and volatile ex-boyfriend with whom she shares a violent past that has completely altered her life and yet left his untouched. Other stories feel underdeveloped, and though the collection is only somewhat successful as a whole, Rodriguez’s best stories are both heartbreaking and insightful. (July)