Mundo Cruelby Luis Negron, Suzanne Jill Levine (Translator)
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.
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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.
"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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By Luis Negron
Seven Stories PressCopyright © 2013 Luis Negron
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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.
The Vampire of Moca
Let’s put this story in context. Santurce, Puerto Rico, once known as Cangrejos, meaning Crabs, but no longer. Santurce. Blocks and blocks full of doctor’s offices and temples—Catholic, Evangelical, Mormon, Rosicrucian, Espiritista, Jewish, and yoga-ist, if that’s what you call it. The stench of sewers 24/7. Unbearable heat. Reggaeton, old school salsa, boleros, bachatas, jukeboxes, pool halls, slot machines. Topless bars, Dominican bars, gay bars. Catholic schools, beauty schools, vocational schools, and schools where you get a professional degree in just one year and without much homework. Fabric stores, arts and crafts stores, no-prescription drugstores, barbershops and hair salons. But the mecca is the 7-Eleven, which is like saying Santurce’s Plaza las Américas. That’s where I met him.
I look out the window and in my mind I still see him coming. His loose, low-hanging jeans showing quite a bit of those boxer shorts that didn’t fall off thanks to those beautiful buttocks guarding his back. His sneakers, always neat and clean, not a thread in his shoelaces out of place, not the slightest stain on the sides of his soles. His striped polo shirts, his silvery watchband dangling on his wrist: I sigh because that’s all I can do. His place, the 7-Eleven, I tell myself.
Let’s go to the beginning of the story because I’m in no mood for games. I have a house in Santurce, behind the old General Committee Headquarters of the Pro-Statehood Party. (I should explain that it’s by pure chance that I live there since, like almost all the protagonists of Puerto Rican literature, I question the US presence.) At the rear of my house I rent out a studio. It’s little, but very comfortable. A year ago I rented it out to a couple of lesbians. I’ll admit this was a bit sudden on my part, since when I agreed to it the gay parade had just happened and I felt a sense of solidarity. Horrible mistake. Every Saturday, without fail, there was an endless line of women entering my house. They’d begin by turning on the barbecue and playing Ana Gabriel and Shakira, and then pay-per-view boxing, and finally, being folkloric like they were, they’d bring out the tambourines and cowbells to sing along to Lucecita’s plenas CD. As soon as the lease was over I told them I needed the apartment empty. “No problem, man,” one of them said to me, and they moved.
It was then that I made little signs announcing the apartment for rent. Naturally I stuck them in the gyms and near the pretty boy bars with the hope of renting out the studio and landing a hunk at the same time. And as the saying goes: “Be careful what you wish for; it might come true.” That same night I got a call from a guy who worked at the 7-Eleven and was looking for an apartment. I liked his voice. It sounded real macho. No slouch myself, I went right over to Fernández Juncos to meet him. When I saw him I was almost struck dumb. He asked me how much the rent was and I managed to answer him as best I could after giving him a substantial discount. He asked me about the deposit and I told him to forget about it. I didn’t give him the key right then and there because I didn’t have a copy. We arranged to see each other the next day.
When I got out of there, Santurce was suddenly transformed into the dream of every urban planner: an Eden with Adam standing behind the counter of a store that—like me after that day—never sleeps.
The next day I didn’t go to work. With the help of a Dominican boy, who by the way was also a hunk, I devoted myself to cleaning and painting the studio. I put in an air conditioner, a television, and even an illegal connection to my cable TV, which costs me almost fifty bucks a month. I put new sheets in there and a radio Mami left behind when she went with my sister to Orlando. I mean, what didn’t I do.
He arrived around 9:00pm and when he went in and saw the place he said to me:
“Damn papi, this is nice. With AC and everything.”
He took it right away and told me that if it was okay with me he’d move in the next day. And that’s what he did.
The night of the move—two plastic bags full of clothes, a box filled with sneakers, and a videogame sys-tem—I made him a delicious dinner. The poor thing, he brought beers from work and a box of cigarettes for each of us. He told me that he came to the city because he couldn’t find any work in Moca, his hometown, and that a guy he met in Isabela offered to pull some strings and get him a job in a store. The guy brought him home but then wanted to fuck and he—and I quote—“had respect for everyone but wasn’t into that shit.” I felt so embarrassed for the other guy that I blushed, but he immediately added, “Bro, no worries, I know not all of you are like that. You’ve done right by me and you’re not gonna regret it.” Good God, he saw right through me! But how could he not? I’d put curtains in the studio for him for heaven’s sake. I excused myself at that point and went to my room thinking that it was time to develop a little self-respect and to stop acting like a ’60s fag, that we were now in the twenty-first century and love wasn’t something you bought.
I was so alert to the silence coming from the studio I almost didn’t fall asleep.
The next day, determined to stop all the tricks and shenanigans, I went over to bring the boy some breakfast, not to take him to bed, but to feed a human being. The night before I had said to myself, “Enough of this, going nuts for a man.” I knocked on the metallic door and he opened right away. Good God. He was in boxer shorts that were all snug around his thighs and he had a hard-on. He had a bit of a beer belly from standing on that corner so much and drinking cold beers, adjusting his package every time a hot mami passed by. He had a tattoo of the name Yomaira crossing his chest and sticking out from his armpits were some blond hairs, which really turn me on. I forgot my plan, called in sick at work for the second day in a row, and invited him to the Plaza Mall to buy him whatever he needed.
And so the days passed. My friends in the bar gave me up for dead. Then la Carlos came by to visit. I was with the boy on the balcony when I see him park across the street. He gets out, opening the door and looking at the young hunk and looking at me says as fruity as she can be:
“Can I come in, or are you busy?”
The boy excused himself and the queen looked me up and down with a straight face and said to me: “Girl, what are you doing with that macho?”
La Carlos never changes, I thought and was happy to see him. We laughed our heads off that night and he convinced me to go with him to Tía María.
Tía María, my second home. And I say this honestly. I love that bar. The two pool tables, the jukebox playing Lissette, Lucecita, Yolandita, and la Lupe. I hadn’t gone back there since the boy had moved into the studio. It was really good to see the usual queens, especially since I hadn’t been there for a while. I felt like fresh meat and in that trade that was a plus. Everyone found me thinner.
And then a little macho hustler, a bit like my tenant, came by and la Carlos looks at me and says:
“And the kid? Does he fuck?”
I said no—real serious-like—that I had rented the apartment to him, that he was from Moca, that he had a daughter named Yomaira and was easygoing and a hard worker. I said besides that he didn’t interest me as a man. La Carlos, who doesn’t waste any time, interrupted me:
“So then, I have carte blanche, right?”
“I don’t care. . .” I lied, shrugging my shoulders and feeling that icy sensation in my bones that we call “jealousy.”
One night I was on double shift and when I get home I see, parked right in front of the house, Carlos’s car. I go and peek in the studio and there was Carlos with the guy, eating pizza and smoking pot. Fucking queen, I thought, but I put on a serious face and said to the kid:
“Dude, I don’t want any trouble with the neighbors. If you’re going to smoke, fine, but with the door closed.”
The motherfuckers laughed right in my face, high as kites. La Carlos hugged me around the neck and said:
“You jealous, papi? Look, he’s yours, no worries, right, papi?”
“Course, man, sure. All yours,” the kid said, humoring me.
Those words remained engraved in my brain like Bergman’s movies: “All yours, papi, all yours.” But “all yours” was that he was friends with la Carlos and they went everywhere together.
I did what everyone would have done: I called my ex, the one who cheated on me in Santo Domingo, so that he’d tell me that, after me, he never met anyone as special. That’s why it’s good to stay on good terms with one’s exes, especially if they treated you bad.
Time passed and Santurce went back to being its usual paradise lost. The same calm from Monday to Wednesday and the same hyped enthusiasm of its publicized weekends. I took advantage of all this and went to the museums—MAC, MAPR, Bellas Artes—and to all the movies they were showing at the Fine Arts and the Metro, except the one with Mel Gibson, who I can’t stand because he’s homophobic.
I felt defeated. If there’s one thing I am and have always been it’s a sore loser. It makes me angry and even makes me feel invisible, incapable of entertaining any delusions. Now Carlos no longer even bothered to greet me when he’d come to the studio, and from my balcony I’d watch my Adam come and go looking more and more handsome and more and more distant. One night I had one too many beers at the bar and as two hustlers came over to offer me their eight and nine inches, respectively, I quickly came down from my high spirits. I always get depressed when a trick propositions me: I feel old, or what’s worse, I feel I must look old and pathetic for these creatures to consider themselves objects of my desire. I said to myself “fuck this” and went home. Once there I saw la Carlos’s Tercel and I went over to the studio and looked in the window. The kid and Carlos naked in the bed I had bought, with the air conditioner I had bought, and between the sheets I had bought. And that was the stud of studs, the big macho, I said to myself totally pissed, and suddenly the kid gets up and I step back from the window. After a short while I look again and when I see what I see I start to add up all my expenses and I realize that this little Adam of Moca owes me and plenty: Carlos was fucking him.
I sat on the balcony to laugh at myself and Carlos and all of us gays, eternal denizens of Santurce, who have polished these sidewalks like crabs back and forth and sideways looking for machos, watching out for machos, or simply drunk out of our minds, out late, arm in arm, laughing jubilantly at the cars passing, shouting at us: fags! And us, raising our arms up high like beauty queens, shouting back at them: cocksuckers! And off we go to oblivion, holding hands, swishing all along Ponce de León. And I laugh at Carlos, who spent so much gas, the poor thing, coming and going from Moca, buying pizza and fried rice, and bumming reefers in La Colectora. La Carlos, like me, was thinking “now this is a real man,” and as far as I could tell he’s the kind who’d bend over in bed. Not that it’s bad that he gave him his ass; it’s just that us chumps give anything to charm them and to put them on a pedestal: handsome, male, virile, and one 100 percent tops. And I say to myself: “When that big queen Carlos comes out I’ll invite her to Junior’s Bar ’cause tonight there are strippers and I changed twenty bucks into one dollar bills. ’Cause there’s always more fish in the sea.
Excerpted from Mundo Cruel by Luis Negron Copyright © 2013 by Luis Negron. Excerpted by permission of Seven Stories Press, a division of Random House, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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.
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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!