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Monstress: Stories by Lysley Tenorio

Monstress: Stories (2012)

by Lysley Tenorio

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1085111,760 (3.65)8



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Showing 5 of 5
I have an aversion to rating short story collections. Some collections aren’t that hard to rate, because all the stories are equally good or bad. Then there are collections where the stories are all over the place, and how do you rate that? Do you go with the best? The overall? It’s like watching all the Star Trek films ever made and having to rate them as one. Not an easy task. And then, how will others interpret your score? Will they ignore a great series because a crap film like Nemesis drastically brought down the rating?

The problem is, I’ve started this review all wrong, because I’ve used words like “bad” and “crap” and the reader may already have it in his/her mind that there must be some crap stories in this collection. Far from it. Every single story in Monstress is good. But then there are some that are great. In fact, the collection starts with three phenomenal stories that are among the best I’ve read in some time. The remaining stories are all really quite good, but they’re not great, so when you see those four stars attached to this review, know I don’t give that fifth star with some reluctance.

Now I’m three paragraphs in and I still haven’t sold anyone on reading this book. So all these stories are touching and slightly quirky. They’re original tales full of inventive characters. Regardless of what is going on in the background, I think it’s the characters who stand out the most; they’re so unique but wholly human. There’s considerable heart and passion behind this collection, and I look forward to reading more from Tenorio.

If I haven’t sold you yet, just give it three stories. Maybe the first three, because they were the ones I personally enjoyed the most. Or maybe any other three. Perhaps whatever three stories you chose to read first in this collection will be the best. It may just be that once the bar is set so high, it’s hard for the remaining stories to compete. I stick behind my four stars, but with noted hesitation. ( )
  chrisblocker | Oct 31, 2014 |
In Lysley Tenorio’s debut short story collection he gathered eight taut stories that illuminated the kind of alienation Filipinos in America feel and try to cope with as they live the life of immigrants in the States. Filipinos have a reputation for having a knack to assimilate in any culture and society but experience told me that no matter how “assimilated” I appear to be, in another country the feeling that I am an outsider looking in does not entirely dissipate. A fertile ground, I might say, for a lot of angst and melodrama.

In Tenorio’s case, as I was delighted to learn; he eschewed the emotional wrangling and tear-jerking in favor of bizarre and unique premises that drive the themes of alienation and filial piety without sounding didactic and preachy. In fact, reading the stories in this collection reminded me of another short story collection which I read as a teen-ager.

While it is easy to dismiss the works of Clive Barker as ‘mere’ horror-fantasy, I believe that underneath all the horrific elements, there are many insights on the theme of alienation and identity. The stories in Clive Barker’s multi-volume ‘Books of Blood’ were filled with the unique and the bizarre: characters both human and otherwise going through experiences that challenge their sense of self.

Similarly, Tenorio’s stories were populated with brilliantly quirky characters that go through seemingly outrageous experiences in order to come to a reconciliation of their own inner conflicts and contradictions. The has-been B-Movie actress, the grandson of a famous faith healer, and the brother of a dead transgender man were all looking for some kind of transformation: a return to the limelight and finally achieving fame, an exit from the family business to a new life, and a way to understand his own identity.

The need for connection is another theme that was manifested by some of the characters in the stories: the uncle and his nephew, who plotted against the Beatles to avenge the honor of Imelda Marcos while yearning to actually meet the Beatles notice them at the same time, the comic book geek who coped with the rejection of his Caucasian father by inhabiting a fantasy world he was tempted to make real, and the girl from a leper colony who dreamed of love with an American soldier stricken with leprosy.

However, no matter how outrageous the proceedings in the stories get, I think Tenorio is at his best when imbuing his characters with real feelings and concerns, plus the right amount of moral ambiguity, just enough so that not one of his characters appear perfect and in turn, infallible. There is a kind of sadness that pervades the stories in this collection. I’m not sure if this is a reflection of my current state of mind but this is how the stories felt to me. But immigration is a word that is already fraught inherent sadness. I mean separation from loved ones, the struggle to build a new life in a new environment, and the attempt to come to terms with the changed self, among others.

But still, like the Filipino that he is, Tenorio manages to inject a touch of humor in the dreary situations. Case in point: can there be any sadder theme than unrequited love among the elderly who are about to be evicted from the condemned building that’s been their only home? Just writing the previous statement almost brought me to tears. But under Tenorio’s deft hands, the story is told gorgeously and ends up being life-affirming despite its dour conclusion.

In Clive Barker’s novella ‘Cabal’, the only character who behaved in a monstrous manner was in fact, human. The other creatures were basically like all of us: beautiful and tragic and always struggling to deal with our own alienation. Hence the phrase, we’re all monsters.

All told, the stories in ‘Monstress’ allowed me to view and appreciate the idiosyncratic nuances of the Filipino-American psyche, with the struggles between staying in the Philippines and emigrating, loyalty to one’s family and ambition, and adherence to culture and assimilation, among others. More commendable is the manner with which Tenorio laid these themes and issues bare; the stories were genuinely moving in its often off-kilter voice, showcasing familial dysfunction from fresh angles, and being insightful without being too smug and self-aware. ( )
  pinakadalisay | Jul 27, 2014 |
Montress is an invigorating and intrepid compilation of several short stories filled to the brim with heartfelt, anticipation, philosophical, unexpected surprise that will leave the reader reaching deep into their souls to question if they too are not living life to the fullest and what their sense of being might truly be...

Read full review at http://www.musingwithcrayolakym.com/book-reviews.html
Come visit me on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/MusingwithCrayolakym ( )
  crayolakym | Apr 13, 2013 |
Lysley Tenorio’s Monstress holds a remarkably strong collection of stories. Focusing on a varied group of Filipinos and Filipino-Americans, he effectively balances the strange, heartbreaking, and humorous in ways that keep readers engaged throughout the book.

I have an ambiguous relationship with short stories; on the one hand, I echo the common refrain of many readers who bemoan how short stories are so limited in length that I never feel as if I can sink my teeth into the story and be invested in what’s happening. On the other hand, I’ll periodically pick up a short story collection to while away a train ride, always hopeful that whatever collection I have will be better than the ones before. With Monstress, I've finally found stories that resonated with me.

The collection was notable in its variety. We meet up with a whole host of people and get to immerse ourselves in different places and time periods. The breadth that Tenorio demonstrates is impressive—it was a pleasure to dip into each world. We have the B-movie actress and her film creator boyfriend who venture from the Philippines to Hollywood in the title story; denizens of a leper colony; a faith healer and his grandson who perform their “Holy Blessed Extraction of Negativities” with...chicken gizzards; a boy who copes with being a misfit by assuming a superhero persona; a Manila airport worker who plans to beat up the Beatles after they insult his idol, the notorious Imelda Marcos; and a man who grieves for his dead brother and the distance that ate away at the family when the brother became a transsexual woman.

These are characters who are at the margins of society. They’re the outsiders looking in on the world as it passes by; some are resigned to this, some try to fit in, and others fight to blaze their own trails. Tenorio is able to evoke a sense of tenderness and empathy for all of these vulnerable characters. There’s a kind of longing that runs throughout each story that makes the stories feel coherent and substantial, instead of just fleeting blips of entertainment.

Even as the stories capture specific moments in time, Tenorio still manages to make them encompass whole lives lived—hopes dashed, plans hatched and foiled, the small and big hurts that people inflict and suffer through. He builds a rich enough world that I never felt as if something was missing that prevented me from connecting with them. Readers don't feel as if we've parachuted randomly into a story and are held at arms-length throughout, which is how I often feel when reading short stories in general. The fact that Monstress not only kept me engaged while the book was open but also made a mark on me after the book closed is a rather remarkable feat.
( )
  Samchan | Mar 31, 2013 |
Showing 5 of 5
“. . . that the author takes this niche subject and makes from it a tale with universal appeal is proof that Lysley Tenorio is a major new literary talent. . . . While there is room for growth for future tales and future volumes, Monstress packs enough literary heat to excite even the most winter ravaged among us. It is highly recommended.”

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for my mother, 
Estrella Agojo Tenorio

and in memory of my father,
Pioquinto Gahol Tenorio
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In 1966, the president of Cocoloco Pictures broke the new to us in English: "As the Americanos say, it is time to listen to the music. Your movies are shit."
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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This heartrending, funny and utterly original collection of stories, exploring the clash and meld of American and Filipino culture, centers around the sometimes suffocating ties of family, the melancholy of isolation and the need to find connections.

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