Lysley Tenorio’s debut collection of short stories, Monstress, explores the lives of Filipino Americans and Filipinos with a universal grace.
Tenorio’s voice is gentle and strong as his stories delve into lives on the fringes.
In the title story, “Monstress,” Reva and her filmmaker beau arrive in Hollywood to collaborate with another monster movie director; Reva gets to star for the first time as the leading lady as opposed to one of her boyfriend’s neverending cache of monsters in rubber suits.
In “The Brothers,” a surviving brother reflects on his transgender brother Eric/Erica’s life and death. Another story is narrated by a young comic book obsessed boy bent on revenge against the bullies in his school, his rage fueled by his mother’s emotional instability and the father who left.
“The View from Culion” is about a young girl from California who spends her life in a leper colony while “Save the I-Hotel” details the long-term friendship between two men, one of whom is in love with the other.
I really enjoyed “Help,” a story about a group of men in Manila caught up in the Beatles’ infamous clash with Imelda Marcos.
Monstress has a cumulative impact, each story revealing their character’s inner worlds. Tenorio’s stories plumb subjects such as sexuality, otherness, the desire to belong and the search for self in a new country. I hope Tenorio publishes a novel soon; these stories left me wanting even more.