Monstress by Lysley Tenorio – review

as always, there is the chance for spoilers ahead. In this instance, it’s a certainty. So, if you haven’t read this collection, I’ll just say that, yes, it’s a really good read and worth the time.  the collection definitely follows a theme of people who are monsters in some way, from the obvious of an actress who always dons the monster suits in her husband’s movies to a little girl who reaps vengeance upon a sister to people physically disfigured by leprosy. Tenorio’s stories are about people either overcoming the monsters they live with, or how their lives are shaped (and occasionally destroyed) by them. Also, the monster theme isn’t just a one off in each story. You can often find monsters in various forms rearing their heads, giving you a variety to pick from.

In the title story, “Monstress,” there is the leading lady, Reva, who often plays the monster in her husband, Checker’s, movies. There’s also the monster of Hollywood and all of the allure of its lights and fame. Also, there is the monster of Checkers having never made it big as a director himself, even being pushed aside in Manilla because his films are not “Hollywood” enough.

We see the same thing in the story “Brothers.” One brother is seen as a monster because of his decision to become a woman. Throughout the story, Tenorio also shows the mother to be a bit of a monster with her initial treatment of her transgendered son, “friends” from their childhood have moments of monstrousness with how they react to the transgendered brother, and the central character, the other brother, has moments where he seems to be fighting his “inner monster.”

This could also be a collection centered around a meditation on love. All to often, the people who come across as the most monstrous have done something horrible for the sake of love. The love of a sister. The love of another man. The love of a son. Love is bent, corrupted to give its permission to a myriad unloving actions.  In this way it could be placed among many American stories, where love corrupts or is corrupted. For whatever reasons, Bastard out of Carolina comes to mind the quickest. Nearly everyone in the novel loves someone but also uses that love as an excuse to do something horrible. Perhaps this is the most natural direction to take love, at least in art. Love by itself is probably somewhat mundane, outside of the Hallmark Channel. Meanwhile, all of us probably remember doing something stupid for the sake of love, so the idea of a mother using an ace bandage to tightly wrap her son’s fake breasts flat to his chest because she loves him probably shouldn’t be a grimace inducing scene, though it is.  Maybe this is the true definition of monster, though. The corruption of love.
Alright, below this I have brief (very brief) rundowns of each story. They probably aren’t very helpful for you, but they helped me remember plenty. Since I wrote them down, I figure I should just leave them up. So, if you really don’t want any (more) spoilers, don’t keep reading. The rest of you have been warned.

1. Monstress – Manila husband/wfe [checkers/reva] make horror movies, brought to California, by Gaz to finish horror movie using Checker’s monsters. Checker ends up going home, Reva stays and makes a few more movies -all crap. Cutting room floor with Checkers reaching to help Reva up

2. The Brothers = two brothers, one is a transsexual. Dies of asthma attack. family has to come to grips with his life. brother ends up going to other TS’s house at the end, to mourn?
3.Felix Starro – family passes down job of being a faith healer, using Chicken livers/blood to sell their performance. Starro and grandson come to US, Felix makes small fortune that grandkid steals to buy fake documents to move to US.

4.The view from culion – Culion, a leper colony. An American girl is there, sent by her family, one day american GI shows up. He wants to escape, she wants companionship. He gets her to draw again. She tells Peace Corp that he is there against what her superiors tell her. PEace corp takes him away, and she sees that he has leprosy.

5. Superassasin – high school kid lives in dreamworld of being a super hero, enacts “vengeance” on people he feels has wronged him, such as concocting an aerosol spray to horribly burn someone who mistakes it for deoderant.

6. Help – boy and his cousins help their uncle willie attack the Beatles at an airport because they made a remark about Imelda Marcos. When the time comes, not everyone attacks, but then it begins awkwardly until Willie enters the fray. No one ends up getting hurt, Beatles remember it later and the kid feels a bit vindicated by it? proud of it?
7. Save the I Hotel – Fortunado and Vicente are old men living in the I Hotel. Both immigrants, Fortunado is gay and has always had a thing for Vicente. story is of their past, how thye came to live together and how Fortunado betrayed Vicente out of jealousy, getting him and his girlfriend fired (g/f flees back to WIsconsin?). Now, Vicente is kinda out of it, and Fortunado takes care of him and prepares him to be taken from the hotel because the city is tearing it down.

8. L’Amour – family moves to military base in California. One daughter uses younger sister for cover for running off with her boyfriend who knocks her up and then wants nothing to do iwth her. moves back home. family is fucked up. Her sister then starts bleeding, and the younger daughter locks her in and runs off. She gets a street away before turning and going back and seeming to start over.

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