Mundo Cruelby Luis Negron, Suzanne Jill Levine
Luis Negrón’s debut collection reveals the intimate world of a small community in Puerto Rico joined together by its transgressive sexuality. The writing straddles the shifting line between pure, unadorned storytelling and satire, exploring the sometimes hilarious and sometimes heartbreaking nature of survival in a decidedly cruel… See more details below
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Luis Negrón’s debut collection reveals the intimate world of a small community in Puerto Rico joined together by its transgressive sexuality. The writing straddles the shifting line between pure, unadorned storytelling and satire, exploring the sometimes hilarious and sometimes heartbreaking nature of survival in a decidedly cruel world.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
"Hilarious and heart-wrenching, provocative and pitch-perfect, each story is a tiny, transgressive explosion. I feel inadequate to the task of expressing just how wonderful this book is...read it slowly, and listen close; here is a master storyteller at his finest."—Justin Torres, author of We the Animals
“Negrón is perhaps the most intimate and unsuspected heir to Manuel Puig.”—Antonio Morato, author of Lima y Limón
“These nine stories are rude, beautiful, funny, tender, sarcastic but, above all, human.”—Guillermo Barquero, Sentencias inútiles
"Sharp and distinct voices guide the darkly witty stories in Luis Negron's debut short story collection, Mundo Cruel. Negron breaks open the chaotic lives of queens and lovers revolving in and around Santurce, Puerto Rico, through stories that resemble monologues driven by each character's strong personalities."—Los Angeles Review
“Like a cross between Manuel Puig and Luis Rafael Sánchez, the author of these stories shows us the tenderness, the love, and the bravery of those who decide to embrace their identity, whatever it happens to be.”—Margarita Pintado Burgos, Desvalijadas
"Negrón has a knack for portraying the insight and pathos that arise when old-school romantic, wounded souls collide. In nine short fictional monologues, he brilliantly depicts the campy queers, effeminate banter, and rough trade of Santurce, a low-rent neighborhood in San Juan. Negrón’s humor and heart put him in the canon of gay high satire headed by Manuel Puig, the author of Kiss of the Spider Woman..."—Out Magazine
“Luis Negrón is a very gifted storyteller, and one who is not afraid to steer straight into shameful and hurtful memories at top speed, confessing them with no fear or need of pity. “Mundo Cruel” will make you laugh and will make you cringe—but what would life be without its ups and downs?”—Charlie Vazquez, Latino Rebels
“Luis Negrón’s debut story collection, Mundo Cruel, is a study in verve, sass, and voice, peppered with a dash of spirituality. Short and sweet, this slim volume delivers its wisdom in one breakneck sprint through the cosmopolitan barrio of Santurce, San Juan, Puerto Rico. Negrón’s work has garnered comparisons to Manuel Puig, the late Argentine pop author best known for his novel Kiss of the Spider Woman. It’s an apt comparison. Like Puig, Negrón’s prose crackles with the voice of the street, constructing deep meaning out of absurdity and satire. But Negrón is his own writer.”—Lambda Literary Review
"Luis Negrón's amusing collection of short stories weave gritty, funny, and intimate tales from the eclectic island of Puerto Rico. The stories, while all so unique from each other, share an undercurrent of sexuality that provides a true air of authenticity; the real Puerto Rico, not the fortress-like resorts or tchotchke shops of Old San Juan."—The Advocate Hot Sheet
“Negron’s characters are so multidimensional that you almost believe it possible to reach into the pages of his tales and offer them some quick advice or stern words of warning. Perhaps the relatability they possess is the scariest part of these tales.”—Typographical Era
“In just 96 pages, Luis Negrón is satirical, heartwarming, heartbreaking and laugh-out-loud funny. His collection of short fictional stories, Mundo Cruel, is gay fiction at its best.”—The Daily Texan
“Negron's deft touch is humane, warm, and funny. Using economical, vivid prose, he makes a compelling case that assimilation isn't for all, and that those outside the mainstream are worthy of respect.”—The Bay Area Reporter
"Mundo Cruel might be a quick read, yet this is the type of book whose characters will linger in your imagination—it might take some effort to shake them off. Negrón is an incredibly gifted writer whose vivid prose, diverse writing style, and humor makes reading this book a true joy."—Three Percent
“Negrón trusts his readers and their desire for an expanded worldview, and he delivers on this trust by showing incredible attention to detail and by compelling each voice within his stories to speak to readers’ capacity for compassion and critical thought.”—Portland Book Review
“All nine of the stories brilliantly convey the strangeness and the tenderness of being human and, at 82 pages, the collection is easily finished in a single sitting. Despite its brevity, you’ll be thinking about it long after you close the book.” —Akashic
"[...] one of those books that's translation captured the depths of its essence. Mundo Cruel was a shocking, provocative compilation of nine stories that's narrative was bold, engaging yet raised eyebrows. The characters were distinctive and easy to read [...] you will experience writing at it most intimate and purest form without filter."—What is This Book About Blog
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Read an Excerpt
The Chosen One
Ever since I was little I’ve heard my mother tell the story, more than once, that when they presented me at church, barely forty days old, the preacher predicted that I would not be like other boys, that every step I took would be a step toward Jehovah. I grew up with the certainty of being anointed.
My brothers and father were opposed to this idea. Papi swore to my mother that they weren’t bringing me up right, that all the church and religion was going to ruin me. My brothers, backed by Papi, never went to church. They made sure I had something to talk about in Bible class when we’d discuss Job and his trials. They’d hide my Bible and my neckties. They’d spray me with the hose minutes before the bus arrived to take Mami and me to worship. If I cried, Papi would make me fight them and would shout at me:
"Defend yourself like a man, goddamn it!"
I felt comfortable at church. They’d take me from town to town as a child preacher. The adults would ask my advice; the women would beg me for visions. One night during a vigil, I went out to the bathroom. The only light outside was the one on the toilet. When I entered, I heard a noise and as I approached the urinal stall I saw sister Paca’s son doing brother Pabón’s son from behind.
At that moment I had my first true revelation. My whole body was telling me that I wanted to be in the place where brother Pabón’s son was. When they noticed me they got scared, but I was able to calm them down when I started to lower my pants. I wasn’t able to touch them, though, because at that very same moment brother Samuel came in and caught us.
The news reached Papi through my brothers, who were eager for the beating that would follow. With the eyes of a Pharisee, while Mami turned up the volume on the radio that was playing the evangelical station, Papi grabbed my whole face with one hand and crushed it like a ball of paper in his fist. He took off his belt and whipped my back. When he saw that I wasn’t crying, that I didn’t make a peep, he whipped my face with the buckle until the little choir on the radio stopped singing. He left both of my eyes swollen and my nose broken. After the swelling went down my face was transformed. It looked like the faces of the saints in those little prayer cards my grandmother, the Catholic, kept in her house. For the other boys it was irresistible. They all wanted to be my boyfriend.
The preacher’s son gave me an illustrated Bible on Valentine’s Day. I liked to look at the pictures: Adam covered with a big fig leaf, ashamed to notice his private parts for the first time, and me with him; Lot’s wife turned to salt, looking toward the burning city because you just had to; David’s torso, strong and magnificent; Goliath’s legs, with him being a giant and all, my imagination soared.
My father decided to go to church too to see if he could change me by force of prayer. He was tired of giving me beatings every time he caught me making out with a male cousin or walked in on me when I was modeling in front of the family mirror. He’d drag me out of the bathroom at the supermarket where I’d hook up with meat packers. He’d slap me hard or punch me with his clenched fist, and I just took it. Beatings with leather belts, belt buckles, flip-flops, wooden switches from tamarind or gandules trees that my grandmother sent from Arroyo, or pulled off the lemon tree that we had in the yard. I hated the lemon tree. One time my brothers and I claimed we had seen the Virgin appear on top of it. The news upset Mami and, fearing that the house would be filled with Catholics, she cut it down and there were no more switches.
When I turned fifteen it was my turn to be baptized. I didn’t let Mami buy my outfit at Barrio Obrero. I made her give me the money and I went to the mall instead. The clothes had to be white. I bought a pair of linen trousers and combined them with a white guayabera shirt and leather women’s sandals that really looked like they were for men. Nobody would notice the difference.
I took the bus and felt happy when I saw the driver. “Thank you, Father,” I said to the Almighty. We already knew each other. Every once in a while he called me and waited for me at Parada 20 to take me to a motel on Highway 1. I sat where he could see me through the rear view mirror and where I could see him perfectly. He told me, when I was about to get off, to go to the end of the route with him, that it was his last trip for the day. From there he took me to a motel in Caguas.
Since we got out early I decided to run by the house to leave the bag of clothes I bought before going to church, where there was a fritter sale going on to raise money. When I got home, there was the preacher’s son. He had come to find out why I hadn’t gone to church. Nobody was home and I invited him in while I took a bath. He came in, nervously. I took him to my room. He sat on my bed and I stripped naked in front of him to go into the bathroom. I let the water run before getting in so it could get hot. I hated cold water. When I got in, the preacher’s son stripped naked and got in with me.
Afterward he went off to church and I stayed home. I called Mami to tell her I was staying home and to bring me fritters. Two and a diet coke. Mami said she’d be back much later since they had to take a sister to Humacao and that was far away. I went out on the balcony and started to smoke a cigarette.
I learned to smoke with a Christian singer who once played a show at my church. When I noticed him he was flirting with a group of young sisters, talking about the Word. I watched him from afar and noticed how he got distracted whenever he looked at me. He didn’t take his eyes off me while he sang a Christian bachata and read a psalm. When the concert was over he greeted me with a trembling voice.
"Do you sing?" he asked.
He invited me to join his choir. I gave him my number, but before that he spoke with my parents and told them that being in the choir was a good service, a special calling. The preacher agreed and my parents gave me permission.
I was on tour for a whole summer and all that summer we were lovers. He loved me in an obsessive way. When he’d light a cigarette he’d give me one and I’ve smoked ever since, secretly and all the time. He’d say the smoke made his voice hoarse and that that turned on the sisters. He’d tell me that when he crossed over to worldly music he was going to take me with him so we could live together. We’d make love every night and sometimes in the morning. But I got tired of my calling and went back home.
While I was finishing my cigarette sister Dalia’s husband was walking by. He works in Acueductos and has strayed from the Word.
"That’s bad for you," he said to me, and stopped, not before looking around on all sides. "Are you all alone?"
"You always seem so quiet and I’m surprised to see you smoking. Maybe you ain’t such a little saint after all."
In Mami’s room—to keep an eye out through the window—he pulled me by the hair and possessed me, salivating and telling me how delicious it was to do it with me. When we finished, sister Dalia’s husband left. I lay down, picked up the Bible the preacher’s son had given me, and read a psalm to put myself to sleep. The next day was my baptism.
Mami was furious when she saw the sandals before we started out for the baptism in the Yunque. "You look like a damn fag," she said to me. "You’re not going anywhere dressed like that." I didn’t change. She hit me in the face with the tambourine, she pulled my hair and kept slapping me but I didn’t change. I was going to the baptism in that outfit. After she got tired of beating me, she said to me: "You’re the one they’re going to call fag."
Once we got there, Mami grabbed her Bible and left me. I went over to sister Evelyn, who was in charge, and signed in. Then I walked toward a place a little farther away, where the church buses were parked. I sat on a rock, still swollen from Mami’s beating. I looked at the sky and told God I needed to talk to him. God spoke to me with a voice that came down from heaven but that I felt right in my ear. "Thou art proud and of a mind that thou canst do whatever thou wouldst." "But Father," I said to him, "if I’m a chosen one and I can’t do what I want, what’s the point? Besides, forgive me, as you are God, but I remind you that I also have free will." He fell silent, but I listened to him think.
"It’s up to you," he finally said. "Go thou with my blessing."
I was satisfied when the meeting ended. I had made my point. From the rock I saw one of the bus drivers sitting in his driver’s seat, looking at me. He gestured for me to come over. I climbed into the bus and he had already pulled it out of his pants. We continued in the last row. I liked him because he talked dirty and, grabbing my face amid all those dirty words, he said he’d never seen anything like it. I left the bus in a sweat, dying for the baptism to start so I could cool myself off in the water.
I got in line and they gave me a candle. Papi, who had gone earlier to help the pastor set up, was with Mami. They watched from the riverbank with desperate looks on their faces. They wanted them to put me under the water already to see if the Holy Spirit would enter and change me. I was the third in line and soon it was my turn.
The pastor looked at me with that prophet-look he knew how to put on. I saw him look at me with anger and then his eyes saw my slutty face. Full of pleasure upon seeing me look at him that way, he revealed his rage to me. I saw his dark thick body through his damp white clothes. I saw the hairs on his wet arms, close to his skin. I saw that he saw that I saw what he saw. I saw through his white pants how inside his white cotton jockey shorts, he grew large. I saw the brothers on the shore fascinated with my beauty, looking at me. I saw Papi’s face in the distance, looking at me look. This boy is a monster, his face said. I saw Mami look at my monstrosity in Papi’s face. I turned my back on my father and my mother and looked again at that thing that was already curving over the preacher’s thigh when he immersed me in the water.
The sound of the water pressed against my ears. Among the rocks there was a beer can. Some river shrimp clung to an old tennis shoe. I saw the preacher’s feet in his blue rubber flip-flops. Then he took me out of the water and held me for a second in his arms. “You are clean,” he said to me, and winked.
A while later, when they were taking photos of me with my parents, he announced that I would go back with him, alone to the church, because we had things to talk about. My parents gave me permission.
He couldn’t wait until we got to a motel: he made me touch him on the way there. I caressed it and looked at it (identical to his son’s).
"I felt something divine," he confessed still exhausted on the bed. "You’re a mystery to me."
He hugged me and cried. He took me in his arms like the day of his prophecy and told me that he loved me. I promised to love him forever and to go live with him in Orlando and to found a church there, but I didn’t want him to take me home in his car. I asked him to leave me near the church. I wanted to be alone for a while and clear my head a little. And feel the cool night air on my face. And why not see besides if I might find some guy on the way home. Then I’d lie down, read a psalm, and fall straight to sleep.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
What People are saying about this
–Justin Torres, author of We the Animals
“Negrón is perhaps the most intimate and unsuspected heir to Manuel Puig.”
—Antonio Morato, author of Lima y Limón
“These nine stories are rude, beautiful, funny, tender, sarcastic but, above all, human.”
—Guillermo Barquero, Sentencias inútiles
“Like a cross between Manuel Puig and Luis Rafael Sánchez, the author of these stories shows us the tenderness, the love, and the bravery of those who decide to embrace their identity, whatever it happens to be.”
—Margarita Pintado Burgos, Desvalijadas
Meet the Author
Born in the city of Guayama, Puerto Rico in 1970, LUIS NEGRÓN is the co-editor of Los otros cuerpos, an anthology of queer writing from Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rican diaspora. The original Spanish language edition of Mundo Cruel, translated into the English and published by Seven Stories, was printed in Puerto Rico in 2010 by La Secta de Los Perros, then by Libros AC, and is now in its fourth printing.
SUZANNE JILL LEVINE's many translations include the works of Guillermo Cabrera Infante and Manuel Puig. She is the editor of the Penguin Classics Jorge Luis Borges series and author of The Subversive Scribe: Translating Latin American Fiction. She is winner of the 2012 the PEN Center USA Literary Award for her translation of José Donoso’s The Lizard’s Tale.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
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Mundo Cruel by Luis Negrón; Spanish Edition This is a collection of 9 short stories. In "El Elegido," a “Chosen” evangelical candidate for baptism- which happens when he turns fifteen - narrates his homosexual adventures with the sons some of the parishioners, the minister's son, a bus conductor, a famous singer - who taught him how to smoke as he was taken to cheap motels in Caguas. The narrator is criticized for wearing effeminate white clothing to his baptism ceremony, however this makes the pastor get an erection at the ceremony and our narrator ends up in a hotel with the pastor who promises to move to Orlando with him. In "El Vampiro de Moca" (Moca's vampire) A landlord meets a gorgeous tenant at the seven/eleven in Santurce. After fixing his studio apartment for him - air condition is added plus stolen cable service - the tenant moves in. Salivating over his tenant, the landlord stops going to gay bars in San Juan. Concerned over this, his friend, "la Carlos" comes to visit him to inquire on his whereabouts. As Carlos meets the tenant, he asks the landlord if they are dating. After a negative answer from the landlord, Carlos moves in on the tenant and the landlord is left with nothing to do but watch. "La Carlos, como yo, pensaba - este si es un hombre de verdad - y por lo que ví se le viró en la cama." Carlos, like me, thought this was a a real man, but from what I saw, he just turned around (was passive in bed). In "Por Guayama" Guayama, a stray dog has died. The owner, Naldi, is asking Sammy, his friend, an advance of the money he's owed so that he can perform taxidermy on his beloved pet. The story is a series of notes from Naldi to Sammy in which it becomes clear that Sammy has no intentions of ever paying Naldi. Naldi ends up following Sammy to the Dominican Republic where the dog is finally stuffed. Upon returning to Puerto Rico, Naldi is arrested because the Dominicans stuffed the dogs with illegal birth certificates, social security cards, and US passports - a federal felony. In "La Edwin," the story is a cell phone conversation between La Yola and La Jorge about the troubles that La Edwin is in. Apparently Edwin fell for a communist, Che Guevara university student type who was "bisexual" and after a brief romance the Che Guevara type leaves Edwin for a pro statehood homosexual. "Todas las locas son iguales y ustedes las jovencitas lo quieren cambiar todo de la noche a la mañana. Que si la bisexualidad, que si gay es una identidad política, buchas y locas juntas todo el tiempo, pero - entérate niña - que el mundo es mundo desde hace mucho tiempo. Y este mundo de nosotros es así." All gays are the same and you young ones want to change everything overnight. Bisexuality, gay as a political entity, femmes and butch ones together, but - be forewarned - the world has been the same for ages. Our world is that way. In Junito A gay man is telling Junito he is moving to Boston to escape the stigma associated with being gay in Puerto Rico. In “Bottella” (The Bottle) A cocaine addicted gay man walks into one of his older tricks named Paco, nicknamed Caneca, to find the old man dead. He panics and buys a bottle of Clorox to erase all of his DNA from the scene. Trying to explain what happened to his friend, Niebla, they go into Caneca’s house and the same man kills Niebla. Unfortunately, another of the gay man who also visits Caneca is known for carrying a bottle (Botella) of Clorox with him to prevent getting HIV. Botella becomes the main suspect and the killer and Botella go through lots of trouble to get Botella out to Boston to prevent being captured. In “Muchos” (Many) two women, Worried Woman, and Worried also Woman, gossip about Alta’s son because he’s both gay and Dominican. It is clear that both of these conditions are stigma in Puerto Rican Society. In “El Jardín” (The Garden), Nestito is taking care of his HIV infected lover, Willie. They live in a house in Santa Rita with Willie’s sister, Sharon. As Willie is dying he decides to have a big celebration for New Year’s Eve. We learn that Sharon has a secret: she has been dating a Sidney Poitier lookalike for over twenty years because she is afraid to marry him. Finally, in “Mundo Cruel” (Cruel World) - the story that gives the book its title, two Condado “A homosexuals” José A. and Pachi, get a nervous breakdown because Gabriel Solá Cohen, the only owner of a purple Audi in Puerto Rico was having a full breakfast with eggs and white toast. Both of them spend all of their time at the gym and avoid eating, to the point that José A. is a bulimic. José A. goes home and calls in sick, but Pachi has to go to work. Pachi’s boss decides it’s time to have a talk on homophobia in the workplace. Pachi is petrified as sixteen of his co-workers come out of the closet. For Pachi “la patería no era asunto para promulgarse a cuatro vientos.” (Being gay was not a public thing). As they go to the gay bar that night, they are horrified by the number of lesbians in the bar, so much they have to ask the bouncer if it’s ladies night. After a negative answer, they are faced with an announcement that Ponce de León Avenue was closed because the mayor had declared gay nights in Santurce every Thursday. Pachi is able to adapt, because his childhood crush, Papote, come out that evening and takes Pachi home, but José A decides that he’ll move to Miami to prevent living with the underlings. I was glad to read the original SpanIsh version. Most of the stories are written in phonetical Spanish, don’t think that translates too well. The feminine pronouns are used on male names to denote they are gay. Also the terms “loca” and “bugarrón” are used a lot. I guess the best English translation would be “queen” and “one who only is active in bed” but those would still miss the mark. The stories are strong on the plot, but not on character development. The country of Puerto Rico is one of the strongest characters, and places like Santurce are described in detail like on page thirty three “Santurce, Puerto Rico, antes conocido como Cangrejos, pero ya nunca más.” (Santurce once known as Cangrejos, but no more.) Most proper names are avoided. The writer wants to develop the themes and most characters are either anonymous - like Worried Women - or named after a an object - like Botella. The point of view is unclear most of the time, to the point that sometimes you don’t know who’s doing the talking. I loved the book. These are stories of urban violence. poverty, ignorance, prejudices, stereotypes as they exist in today’s Puerto Rican reality. I was glad to see the book win the 2014 Lammy for fiction. Well deserved!