“Mundo Cruel” focuses on Santurce, a small, poor community in the San Juan district of Puerto Rico. It was originally published in Spanish in 2010, and the English translation was released last week. The collection is Negrón’s first.
Throughout the nine short stories, Negrón uses a wide variety of different storytelling techniques. Some are straight dialogue and some are narratives. Some are told in first person, and others in third. Negrón’s stories do not just have a diversity of mood, they also have a diversity of style.
Many of the nine stories in “Mundo Cruel” are comical and satirical. “For Guayama” is about a man’s tireless efforts to track down a friend to borrow money to stuff his recently deceased dog. The man ends up accidentally caught in a smuggling scam — the business he used to stuff his dog filled her with fake social security cards and passports. The unfortunate, but darkly humorous, story is recounted in a series of short letters.
Other stories take a sadder tone, and illustrate the intolerance many in the LGBTQ community face. “So Many” is about neighboring mothers who meet to gossip and complain about a neighborhood boy who they suspect is gay. Written like a playscript, “So Many” only presents the dialogue between the two mothers. With sharp and cruel comments, Negrón paints the intolerance powerfully and painfully.
Some stories are a combination of the sad and funny. “Botella” is about a hustler who continually has bad luck. When one of his clients dies, he is concerned he will be blamed for the murder. So he tries to erase his presence with a bottle of bleach. But when one of his former clients catches him with the bottle of bleach, the hustler murders the professor. The story produces a few chuckles, but the hustler’s cycle of dependency on his clients weaves a depressing story.
There are times in the book, however, when Negrón gets repetitive. Some of the voices in the nine stories are similar to each other. “La Edwin” and “Junito” are both monologues told through a phone call, and the style and voice of these two stories are alike. Although each story is well-written and enjoyable, the similarity in voices causes some staleness in the narrative structure of the book. This is one the book’s few weak points.
Negrón’s prose throughout is simple and intelligent. The stories are easy to read, but they carry deep meaning about life for the gay community in a poor neighborhood. With his short stories, Negrón criticizes some of the overly sexualized aspects of the gay community while simultaneously attacking intolerance and praising acceptance.
Negrón’s short collection is brief in length but vast in quality. “Mundo Cruel” is perfect for a quick read on a slow, uneventful day.
Printed on Tuesday, March 19, 2013 as: Gay story collection brief but powerful