Thursday, June 6, 2013

Book Review: "Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club" by Benjamin Alire Saenz

This was an absolutely fantastic (if too short) story collection which captivated me from the very first sentence, moved me, and made me want more from every story. I can easily see why this collection received both the 2013 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction as well as the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Fiction (although not every story is gay-themed).

The Kentucky Club in Juárez, Mexico, just over the U.S. border, is a touchstone in every story. Much like the characters in Saenz's stories, the Kentucky Club caters to both young and old, straight and gay, rich and poor, Mexican and American, and serves as everything from a special rendezvous spot to a pickup joint to a place of distant and pleasant memory.

Overall, the stories in this collection aren't quite happy ones, but they pack a powerful punch, and they're stuck in my head now that I'm finished with them. From the opening story, He Has Gone to Be with the Women, which chronicles the highs and lows of love, to the closing story, The Hurting Game, in which the main character struggles between falling in love and protecting himself from getting hurt, I was mesmerized by Saenz's use of language, the beauty of his narrative, and the memorable characters. Any one of these stories could be a novel on its own, because I so wanted to know what happened to the characters after the stories ended.

With only seven stories, it's difficult to pick favorites. There were stories that moved me a little more than others, but at the end of each, I wondered whether Saenz could top himself. And he often did.

If you're a fan of short stories or just magnificent, emotionally rich writing, definitely pick up Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club. You'll be glad you did, but like me, you'll probably be sad when you're done.

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