I love short stories. They come in quick, easy-to-read packages that I can fit in between the hundred and one things I need to do each day. In some ways, short fiction is harder to write than longer works, because it requires that a writer distill the very essence of a story into as few words as possible. Each word has to matter. Think John Updike, Irwin Shaw, Raymond Carver, Alice Munro. They could conjure up entire worlds in a few short lines. By necessity, short stories tend to focus on pivotal moments in characters’ lives—and that’s what makes them so interesting.
To those who claim that short fiction is dead, I’d like to introduce an up-and-coming writer, Sandra Lopez. I recently had the opportunity to read her collection of stories, Single Chicas, and I can assure you that the art of story-writing is alive and well.
Single Chicas is about women either searching for or rejecting love. The characters are often snarky, impatient, and some are even a little mean. Mostly, though, they’re recognizable: these are the people you meet every day in school, at work, at the store, on the street, or even in your own home.
The stories are linked together by several themes. One is culture. As the title implies, the women who populate these tales are Latina women living in the U.S. This comes through strongly with descriptions of generational conflict: younger chicas rebelling against their mothers’ and grandmothers’ expectations that they will marry young and have children. The narrator of “My Big Fat Fake Marriage” goes to extreme lengths to avoid this very fate, pretending to have a fake boyfriend to appease her family, then going so far as to fake a marriage and later divorce, before finally escaping by physically moving to another country.
This type of rebellion, and rejection of even the possibility of love, motivates a number of the young women in these pages. Many of them prefer being single. Marriage is perceived as evil, or a dead-end, cutting women off from opportunities to pursue their education, careers, and dreams. This sentiment runs deep, threading through conversations between an older woman and her younger counterpart (“Old Maid”), or in the machinations of an older sister trying to dissuade her brother from walking down the aisle (“My Brother’s Funeral”). There are examples of marriages dissolving, either mentioned in passing as part of a character’s backstory, or told from the standpoint of a bystander who gets reluctantly drawn into the drama (“The Marriage Assistant”).
Regret is another recurring theme. We see it clearly in “Virgin Mary,” a story about two cousins growing up together. One is part of the popular crowd (the narrator), sneering and pitying the other, who is an introverted loner. Gradually, they reverse roles, with the loner working hard and succeeding in life, while the narrator ends up bitter and envious, a single mom in a dead-end job, struggling to make ends meet.
My two favorite stories offer a fresh, optimistic outlook. “The Ball Drop” puts a clever spin on the idea of an arranged match. “The Distraction” presents a chance encounter in which a woman might actually have the opportunity to educate a clueless man about what women really want.
The best part? I hear there’s a Single Chicas 2 in the works!
Single Chicas is available on Amazon: http://amzn.to/2diEvFC
Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.