Aaron Michael Morales's Reviews > The Family Terrorist and Other Stories

The Family Terrorist and Other Stories by J.L. Torres
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From my review in MultiCultural Review:

There is, without a doubt, an important difference in the definition of the words “machismo” and “masculinity.” For readers seeking to understand the subtle differences between the two terms, turning to J.L. Torres’s The Family Terrorist and Other Stories and Rigoberto González’s Men Without Bliss is a meaningful place to start. Both authors, in their short story collections, ruminate on what it means to be men, on how both masculinity and machismo factor into the equation, and on how individual men navigate between expectations and their own personal interpretations of what manliness means, until they finally settle into their own masculinity.
J.L. Torres, a thoughtful and thought-provoking writer, plays it safe in his first collection of fiction, following the same cyclical plot pattern in most of his stories. But so too does the reader settle into the rhythm and, while there are few craft or construct surprises in these short stories, it is a deeply satisfying collection. Sexy, provocative, brave even, Torres gives plenty of space in ten of his eleven stories (the title story features a female protagonist) for an exploration of how men construct their identities in relation to the men with whom they interact. Many of these stories are coming-of-age tales, wherein young men respond to singular events that will carry much more meaning as the protagonists look back on these seemingly insignificant moments that will shape them. The strongest story of the collection, “A Natural Thing,” finds the story’s protagonist, Eric, grappling with the morality of his grandfather’s hyper-masculine tradition of cockfighting. He is both intrigued and repulsed. Ultimately, Eric comes to terms with his grandfather’s sport, after he realizes that it is the only thing connecting his aging grandfather to his glory days back home in Puerto Rico. The story’s final scene, which shows the two men bonding over a substitute blood sport—boxing—on television, is one of the most emotional and sympathetic moments in the book.
In terms of emotion, to say that Men Without Bliss is aptly titled would be a gross understatement. After all, the men who live in Rigoberto González’s fiction are melancholy, despondent, and often living without a shred of hope. That’s not to say that these are the emotive stories of a bitter man. Indeed, González’s seventh book has the patience and mastery of a writer comfortable meandering about the page. These stories are a series of tragedies. Not grandiose, epic, Greek tragedies. Rather they are the mundane tragedies of working-class, everyday men who dream big, but who, in reality, pray only for the slightest reprieve from their day-to-day existence. The collection’s crown jewel is “Good Boys,” a tale told from multiple perspectives that leaves the reader longing to reach into the page and rescue these characters from their heart-wrenching existences. González’s prose is seductive. In fact, everything about this book is seductive. In each story, a new heartbreak lies in wait. González lures readers in with his sultry verbal dance and his husky voice, creating characters that we grow to love. And then he lets reality come crashing down on us. But, in the end, we are grateful for the lessons learned, the same way we look back on old lovers with fondness, after the sting of disappointment has had time to wane.

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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
February 24, 2009 – Shelved

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