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Monstress introduces a bold new writer who explores the clash and meld of disparate cultures. In the National Magazine Award-nominated title story, a has-been movie director and his reluctant leading lady travel from Manila to Hollywood for one last chance at stardom, unaware of what they truly stand to lose. In "Felix Starro," a famous Filipino faith healer and his grandson conduct an illicit business in San Francisco, though each has his own plans for their earnings. And after the Beatles reject an invitation ...

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Monstress introduces a bold new writer who explores the clash and meld of disparate cultures. In the National Magazine Award-nominated title story, a has-been movie director and his reluctant leading lady travel from Manila to Hollywood for one last chance at stardom, unaware of what they truly stand to lose. In "Felix Starro," a famous Filipino faith healer and his grandson conduct an illicit business in San Francisco, though each has his own plans for their earnings. And after the Beatles reject an invitation from Imelda Marcos for a Royal Command Performance, an aging bachelor attempts to defend her honor by recruiting his three nephews to attack the group at the Manila International Airport in "Help."

Lysley Tenorio reveals the lives of people on the outside looking in with rare skill, humor, and deep understanding, in stories framed by tense, fascinating dichotomies—tenderness and power, the fantastical and the realistic, the familiar and the strange. Breathtakingly original, Monstress marks the arrival of a singular new voice in American fiction.

Winner of the 2013 Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction (Triangle Awards)

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

In an interview, Lysley Tenorio describes himself as "a plot-driven guy," whose stories often come to him from weird bits of news or history. In Monstress, his first collection, his adventurous ventures take his characters to Hollywood for a last grasp at stardom; to San Francisco for illegal business success; and to the Manila Airport for an attack on the John, Paul, Ringo, and George. Innovative; risky; worthwhile.

Publishers Weekly
Spanning several decades and diverse settings, Tenorio’s debut story collection is a vibrant survey of Filipino-American immigrant history. The tales are tragic, but Tenorio makes the most of his gift for black humor. “Save the I-Hotel” follows friends Vincente and Fortunado, going back to their meeting 43 years before in Manilatown, San Francisco, in the 1930s, when the law forbade Filipino men from bringing their wives to America and pursuing white women was a dangerous enterprise. At a leper colony in the Philippines, a young Filipina who spent time in America before her disease appeared begins a relationship with an infected AWOL American soldier in “The View from Culion.” Reva Gogo, a famous actress,looks back on her early days in Manila making horror movies with her struggling director, Checkers Rosario, and the trip they made to Los Angeles, where he expected to break into the big time. In “Felix Starro,” a quack doctor travels to San Francisco to perform his famous Extraction of Negativities, involving fake blood and chicken livers, while the grandson who accompanies him must decide whether to continue in the family business or take the money and run. This question—to exploit one’s own or to be exploited—is shrewdly evoked by the author’s blend of the harrowing and the absurd. (Feb.)
The XX Factor Slate
“Tenorio writes persuasively about otherness and connection… [his] characters are zany, witty, and beautifully drawn… Ultimately, though, it is the unassuming pitch of these stories that makes them so exquisitely deadly.”
“A wondrous clutch of stories that pits the customs and superstitions of his Philippines homeland against the fads and fetishes of his adopted America. Set in Manila, Hollywood, and San Francisco, these yarns feature... memorably endearing eccentrics.”
Chang-Rae Lee
“The stories in Monstress announce the debut of an electric literary talent. Brilliantly quirky, often moving, always gorgeously told, these are tales of big-hearted misfits who yearn for their authentic selves with extraordinary passion and grace. Bravo for this fabulous American fiction!”
Peter Ho Davies
“Lysley Tenorio is a writer of sly wit and lively invention—these are stories bursting with wonders...but most wondrous of all is his intimate sense of character. Each story is a confession of love betrayed, told with a mournful, austere tenderness as heartbreaking as it is breathtaking.”
Jessica Hagedorn
Lysley Tenorio’s darkly funny stories capture the contradictions and complexities of being both Filipino and a citizen of the world. Tenorio is a deep and original writer, and Monstress is simply a beautiful book.
Ben Fountain
“Tenorio is that rare breed of writer who mines gold from the impossible. He sees everything—the absurd and the tragic, the funny and profound—and delivers stories that are as true to life as any you will ever read.”
Rishi Reddi
“In these fantastic stories, Tenorio skillfully blends the unlikely and the emotional, the bizarre and the humane. His writing portrays the universal human condition through unique specificity, and is very deserving of attention.”
Anthony Doerr
“Lysley Tenorio’s first book [is] better than I hoped: poignant, imaginative, somehow sad and funny all at once. Tenorio’s characters walk tightropes strung between the Philippines and America, between illusions and reality, between family ties and the need to strike out alone. Monstress is a wonderful read. ”
Daniel Orozco
“Tenorio’s wit is understated; his writing is deft and self-assured; his dramas don’t shout, but whisper, seductive and heartfelt. Monstress is one of the wisest and heartfelt collections I’ve read. I’ve waited a long time for this book.”
Sabina Murray
Monstress is an exhilarating rollercoaster of a book. Deeply funny, heartbreaking, hopeful, philosophical, bawdy, and wise, Tenorio’s stories, written from the underbelly of the American Dream, present one brilliant portrait after another.”
“Tenorio, born in the Philippines and raised in California, has taken a uniquely Filipino-American perspective, polyglot and glittering with cinema dreams, and used it to make a bold collection of stories of the rejected, the helpless and the lost. Monstress is the debut of a singular talent.”
“A wondrous clutch of stories that pits the customs and superstitions of his Philippines homeland against the fads and fetishes of his adopted America. Set in Manila, Hollywood, and San Francisco, these yarns feature... memorably endearing eccentrics.”
The Onion A.V. Club
“[Monstress] introduces a unique voice from an underrepresented slice of the American experience.”
Boston Globe
“[A] compassionate and entertaining new collection…The book’s most poignant tale is Save the I-Hotel, a chiaroscuro of loneliness that’s also a quiet portrait of abiding friendship and life-changing betrayal.”
The Oregonian (Portland)
“Tenorio skillfully balances the beautiful and grotesque, the fantastical and commonplace to arrive at his particularly insightful renderings of the human condition.... [The] reader feels an immediate sense of intimacy with the most unlikely of protagonists.”
San Francisco Weekly
“Tenorio lays bare hearts that dare to hope but wind up disappointed, always with the wit and power of a born storyteller.”
San Jose Mercury News
“[A]n impressive debut… Although the situations are sometimes bleak, the stories benefit from Tenorio’s wry sense of humor.”
Washington Independent Review of Books
“MONSTRESS, a debut collection of short stories by Lysley Tenorio, is a gift: a chance to understand what those Filipino émigrés might have been saying about their lives, loves, disappointments and sense of being the other…Don’t expect happy endings, but do expect to be moved, dazzled and surprised.”
Los Angeles Times
“Tenorio’s stories, set amid mingling nationalities and generations, prompt comparisons to the works of Junot Díaz and Jhumpa Lahiri… But the refreshingly wry stories...are rangier and...focused on uncanny moments when a character realizes that something essential to his or her life might be...false and frightening.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“[W]insome…illuminating…[Tenorio] manages to make fabulous setups plausible through his meticulous crafting, deeply imagining the lives of a memorable cast of eccentrics.... For readers who shy away from short stories on the grounds that they’re often quiet or uneventful...Tenorio might make a convert of you.”
“Complex, and powerful....This first collection introduces a writer of great promise, whose stories can illustrate tenderness at one minute and human cruelty not much later. Tenorio’s writing is immediate, visceral even....[A] vital addition for short-fiction collections [and] readers of Junot Diaz, Chang-Rae Lee, and Jessica Hagedorn.”
“[A] jittery, caffeinated, dazzling collection with a poignant center. The characters, straddling Filipino and American traditions, will charm you with their wit and devastate you with their loneliness. And in addition to being quirky and moving, the eight stories unfold beautifully in language that evokes…Junot Diaz.”
Kirkus Reviews
Unusual culture clashes between the Philippines and the West drive this intimate and admirably controlled debut story collection. Tenorio has a great knack for striking story premises. "Help" is narrated by a young man who's recruited by his uncle to attack the Beatles at the Manila airport for supposedly disrespecting Imelda Marcos. "The View From Culion" is set in a leper colony where a young Filipino woman attempts to connect with a stranded American. "Felix Starro" is narrated by a young man who helps take advantage of San Franciscans with a faith-healing scam, and the heroine of the title story is an attractive actress who's spent much of her career relegated to wearing monster costumes in junky B-movies. In each of these eight stories, Tenorio cultivates a plainspoken (but not blunt) style that recalls Tobias Wolff, and the conflicts are straightforward as well, usually dealing with lost innocence and heartbreak. The best stories add an extra layer of complexity: "The Brothers" tracks the different impacts a transsexual man's death has on his family and his friends in the community, while "Save the I-Hotel" leaps back and forth in time to follow the tense relationship between two Filipino immigrants in San Francisco as they manage homophobia, xenophobia and the destruction of the residence hotel where they'd spent their lives. Like many young story writers, Tenorio has talent and ideas to burn, though he isn't always certain where he wants to take those ideas. For every story like "I-Hotel" or "Superassassin," in which a young man's anger metastasizes into a terrifying comic-book fantasy, there are others that end with vaguely artful gestures that don't quite clarify what has changed within the characters. An introduction to a promising writer who knows how to get a reader's attention, though he occasionally has trouble sticking the landing.
Andrew Haig Martin
Tenorio's first collection of stories takes a refreshingly off-kilter approach to the lives of Filipinos in America…Tenorio's prose isn't flashy, but his stories are impeccably constructed, leading us calmly but insistently through the characters' external and internal landscapes.
—The New York Times Book Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062059567
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/31/2012
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 178,032
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Lysley Tenorio's stories have appeared in The Atlantic, Zoetrope: All-Story, Ploughshares, Manoa, and The Best New American Voices and The Pushcart Prize anthologies. A winner of the Whiting Writer's Award and a former Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, he has received fellowships from the University of Wisconsin, Phillips Exeter Academy, Yaddo, the MacDowell Colony, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Born in the Philippines, he currently lives in San Francisco and is an associate professor at Saint Mary's College of California.

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Interviews & Essays

The stories in your collection are wildly different in terms of setting, plot, and character. You write about a young woman with leprosy falling in love with an AWOL soldier in "The View From Culion," a group of teen-agers attacking the Beatles in "Help," two filmmakers, one from America and one from the Philippines, team up to create a sci-fi/ horror movie. How do you get your ideas for your stories, and what would you say they have in common with one another?
With a few exceptions, most of my stories are based on real places or events. Culion was an American-run leper colony in the South China Sea, the Beatles really were attacked at the Manila International Airport, and the movie the characters make in "Monstress" is based on an actual film that consists of an awful American sci-flick spliced together with footage from a Filipino caveman-monster movie. These scenarios are full of thematic possibility, at least in terms of what I'm interested in writing about—identity, dislocation, home, etc.—but perhaps more importantly, there's so much weirdness to those circumstances; they're almost unbelievable. I like the challenge of that, finding the real emotional drama in the seemingly ridiculous, nonsensical, and strange. These strange places and events from the real world, from history, present me with that challenge.

Your stories have been described as "[illustrating] the clash and meld of Filipino and American cultures." What does this idea of "clash and meld" mean to you and for your stories?
Besides sounding like a new dance craze ("Everybody clash and meld!"), the phrase "clash and meld" feels like an accurate way to describe any two cultures that have been as historically intertwined and American and the Philippines. There's obviously conflict and tension between both cultures, but there's also harmony and synthesis—my characters, I like to think, embody those complexities. The young narrator of "Superassassin," for example, is the son of a white U.S. navyman and a Filipina woman. He demonizes his father (he ditched them right before the narrator was born), is unflinchingly loyal to his abusive mother, and contemplates "the potency of [his] hybridity"—he believes the combination of traits from both parents is its own kind of superpower, something different and uncategorizeable. He's that clash-and-meld, incarnate.

Publishers Weekly, in a review of your book, said, "The tales are tragic, but Tenorio makes the most of his gift for black humor." Do you see your stories are tragic? And if so, how do you infuse emotionally dark stories with a sense of humor?
I can see how these stories can be read as tragic; for all they stand to gain from the decisions they make, my characters suffer immeasurable loss. If there's humor to be found in these stories, its presence should be organic; the job is to draw out the humor, so that it textures and complicates the emotional truth of each situation.

How exactly do you pronounce "Lysley?" Where does your name come from?
It's pronounced, "Less-lee." "Leslie," like the Naked Gun's Leslie Nielsen, also works; "Lies-lee" or "Lis-lee," does not.

The story goes that my oldest brother named me, and came up with the spelling, but there was a brief moment when my father considered naming me "Lindon," which was inspired by "Lindol" which is the Tagalog word for earthquake (I was born during one).

Besides literary fiction, what are some other things that have inspired your writing?

Here's a partial list:

1. Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary. My favorite book as a kid. Even then I understood how flawed Ramona's character was, but that I was still on her side. I think that kind of empathy is essential if you want to write fiction.

2. Crisis On Infinite Earths, the seminal DC Comics mini-series. DC put this out in 1985, and it was the company's way of streamlining their chronology. In the process, major characters were killed off—Supergirl in one issue, The Flash in the next. These were characters I'd loved since I was three years old. I remember sitting in a Pizza Hut, mourning, and feeling like the world had changed with their passing. I would never say my characters have this effect on any potential reader, but that doesn't mean I don't try.

3. Room in New York by Edward Hopper. Through a window, you see a man reading a newspaper and a woman in a red-orange dress plunking away at a piano with one finger. Those single gestures, the blurred faces, the colors that are bright and dull at once—there's so much complicated life in that image, that single moment in time. Fiction should work that way too.

4. Minute 1:58 from "Top of the World" by The Carpenters. I grew up listening to them, and this song is unabashedly cheery and optimistic. But the brilliance of their music is, of course, the synthesis of Richard's buoyant arrangements and the beautiful sadness of Karen's voice. If you listen to that song, to that line where Karen sings, "When this day is through I hope that I will find/ that tomorrow will be/ just the same for you and me," she sings the word same (at 1:58) with this quiet desperation and sense of longing. Many of the stories in Monstress are trying to hit that note—against these seemingly whimsical and offbeat backdrops are characters desperate to make their way in the world. That's what Karen Carpenter's voice sounds like to me.

Who have you discovered lately?

I'm a big Ishiguro fan, but only recently read his first book, A Pale View of Hills. Even in this early work, he shows how powerful restraint can be, all that seethes quietly beneath the self-protection of decorum. Recently, I read The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt. It's a wild and utterly unique riff on the western genre, hilarious and unexpectedly moving.

As Monstress is my first book, I'm compelled to mention three amazing writers who are currently working on theirs. One is Jack Livings, whose stories have appeared in The Paris Review, A Public Space, Best American Short Stories, and The Pushcart Prize. Another is Otis Haschemeyer, who's had work in The Missouri Review, The Sun, and Best New American Voices. Finally, there's Serena Crawford, already an NEA recipient, whose novel, This Side of the World, I read in manuscript form—it's beautiful and sharp, so quietly sad. I can't wait for their books to come out, and for readers to discover them.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 13, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    ¿Montress¿ is an invigorating and intrepid compilation of severa

    “Montress” is an invigorating and intrepid compilation of several short stories filled to the brim with heartfelt, anticipation, philosophical, unexpected surprise that will leave the reader reaching deep into their souls to question if they too are not living life to the fullest and what their sense of being might truly be. Tenorio's writing won't leave you feeling completed with that happy ending most books have, but it will inspire you nonetheless.
    The book itself is lovely with the french flap cover (my favorite for paperbacks) and the rough torn page edges that breath light into the character of this book. If you desire beauty in both the cover and the story within, pick up this book. You won't regret it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted July 24, 2012



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    Posted November 9, 2014

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