Review: “Virgins & Tricksters,” Rosalie Morales Kearns

Pros: Stunning, engrossing
Cons: A bit surreal in places!
Rating: 5 out of 5

The Virgins & Tricksters anthology by Rosalie Morales Kearns bowled me over. Normally I read books that fall within very clearly defined genres, such as horror, SF, and fantasy. This book, however, is mostly about… people. It definitely contains a strong touch of magical realism and surrealism, however.

The “magical” part of magical realism puts in an appearance right away, in the opening story, The Associated Virgins. Elihu Wingate is a psychologist and “gentle soul” who studies regret. He obsesses over a woman he met on a plane, and he initiates a conversation with a blogger online whom he believes to be that woman. She opines that no one’s going to give him honest answers to his carefully-worded survey questions on regret unless he holds them over a cliff. Meanwhile, his parents come back to live with him and insist that he start collecting statuettes of the Virgin Mary even though they aren’t religious. The statues take over his house in a rather alarming way, even speaking to him. The story gets stranger and stranger, and while it doesn’t precisely go anywhere as such, it’s quite memorable.

In Wildwood, Anthony dwells on the secret life of a mechanical fortune teller. Days Are as Grass is kind of a ‘slice of life’ story that touches on religion in some unusual ways. A Stranger, A Journey sees each character redone from the point of view of others, as cultural stereotypes.

The Wives: A Story Cycle tells the tales of four wives who end up separated from their husbands due to one circumstance or another. The ex-wife of the leader of a revolution sits in exile. The tavernkeeper wonders what happened to her husband who left to live as a pirate. The priest’s wife is beset by trouble when the new bishop fills her husband’s head with newfangled nonsense about how priests shouldn’t have wives. Then there’s the story of the wife of a minor sky god who decided to start telling people that he was the only god.

Stories are a crucial element of the universe, no matter how you name the ingredients.
Earth, air, fire, water, and stories.
Cosmic dust, superheated gas, stories.
Matter, energy, stories.

In Taínos at Large, Remedios needs to do an extra paper from college while she’s spending some time back home in Puerto Rico with her family. She decides to write about African cultural influence among the Puerto Ricans, only to find that there isn’t much research material for her to work from. Things get a little strange from there, and this tale offers fascinating glimpses into the history of slaves and slavery in Puerto Rico, and the slaves’ culture and spirituality. It also delves a bit into the natives who were there before the colonizers. Considering I knew virtually nothing about Puerto Rico before this, I really enjoyed getting to learn something new in such an engaging fashion.

Devil Take the Hindmost is a very surreal little piece. Pilar used to be a geochemist specializing in erosion control. When she got a little too noisy, speaking up to activists and the public about problems, she got reassigned as a fire safety officer in the U.S. Forest Service–something she knew nothing about. When a bioterror siren went off she tried to get to shelter, only to be denied due to racism at the first shelter she found, and rejected at the second one due to a dogmatic adherence to rules. After that things get pretty surreal, with, I think, Pilar dancing with the Devil, who apparently gets the “losers” rather than the bad people we expect him to get.

Finally, Triptych goes back and forth between the lives of Larry, Patrice, and JulieAnne. Larry is a self-described redneck who’s prone to magical thinking. Patrice is taking a memoir class, but her teacher disapproves of her tendency to drift into fantasy during her descriptions. JulieAnne loves taking photographs, but is caught by the fact that she’s been sending photos of other girls to her estranged mother in place of photos of herself. These three disparate stories rotate through piece by piece until our three characters come together at a poetry recital. There they forge a connection that won’t be broken. This is a wonderful story of how very different people can come together and care for one another.

I absolutely love this book. It’s incredibly engaging, and never quite steps over the line from surreal into feeling overly random.

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