The book begins with stories that feel more like vignettes. In “Another Man,” a married Latinx friend tentatively starts using a dating app with permission from her husband. In “She and Her Kid and Me and Mine,” a cheerful father supports the play between his children and their white mother, who chides their mother and boils down their racial and economic differences. The protagonist’s rambling internal monologue gives us valuable insight into his neurosis: “Yes, I don’t want to have those conversations with Bobby’s mom, not in my room, and maybe never. Not because he is wrong, but because there is no space to discuss solidarity, nor is there a space to strategize how virtue is extorted from white people, who seem to walk away from all our conditions, unscathed, stress indicators unchanged, even whistling. . To add more, we are both married to white men.
The stories gradually open up and take the reader into unknown territories. Set in the 1980s, “Medtown-West-Falgium” follows two spots that design high-end clothes to support their families, risking themselves and their finances in the process. In “Carlitos in Charge” Varela brings us into the fascinating world of the United Nations, where Carlitos is the primary investigator of the hospital “with a complex investigation elaborated to take and reduce to talking points lists of information, fourteen sources”. Carlitos, whose family is from El Salvador, often hooks up with a white American co-worker named Brad, a “trusty kid” with half an MBA. “The corridors and the baths in the UN were how everyone used the streets and the baths — namely gay and closed,” observes Carlito. Discretion, however, was not the only method in the UN; it was the beginning of both counsel and fornication.
As Carlitos and Brad’s romantic involvement deepens, the country’s absurd bureaucratic maneuvers represent a wedge in their relationship. With China supporting the truth and reconciliation plan to investigate war crimes in El Salvador, the United States is stuck in a tough spot: The agreement with China cannot show any human rights results. And because the United States wants to ask El Salvador to rename its largest city clothing factory “USA” in the next Central American trade agreement (so apparel coming from the country is “Made in the USA”), Brad wants to get Carlitos. El Salvador re-acknowledges that Taiwan and China’s anger is enough to withdraw its support in the commission, so the United States will bow down and see again as a human rights defender.
“The Great Potato Hunger” could easily be an episode of the show “Atlanta.” Set in Obama’s presidency and therefore in the pre-rideshare era, the main character gets a cab driven by a white man while listening to conservative talk radio. When the drinker’s card machine breaks, our cashless main character has to stop at the machine. The mutual mistrust based on race, politics, and class between driver and passer-by makes something as fictitious as getting a coin from a bodega cash machine very complicated and quite funny: inspired by his great birds, so that he would no longer risk his life in the transatlantic voyage against the rock, the rock, the rock hut. He would probably apply for any number of EU citizens and return to his ancestral village, where (open arms, blue eyes) he would be accepted because of stagnant population growth.
The stories in the second part of the collection create a greater emotional resonance, dealing with issues related to aging, long-term partnerships, and getting cancer young. They connect more openly, as we follow the unnamed first-born writer and her husband Gus, who emerges from the namelessness of earlier stories. We know that he is the same man who, in the scene in the first story, reads the book Octavia Butler, when in the title of the collection of stories – also the last book – Gus reads “only the work of a black woman hopes in him. He autocorrects his whiteness.”
In this final story, Gus becomes the main caregiver for a character who is receiving chemotherapy for stage 2 colon cancer. Throughout the book he is drawn to the senses and the composer, Gus begins to sob as he faces the possibility of losing his husband. “I never saw him like this,” said the writer. “I never saw him afraid.” Varela seems to remind us that although intersectional differences, death and loss can be the ultimate equalizer.
“The People who Report More Stress” is an elegantly curated collection that gets better as it goes along, building to the epiphanies missing in the earlier stories. Varela’s witty, insightful prose elevates each story, even if the premises are easily grounded in real-life and contemporary concerns. It is the prudence and lightness of Varela’s work that leads us to the conclusion that, while there are many divisions, they can be repaired.
People you want more: STORIES
By Alejandro Varela
House of Stars, 256 pages, $26
Leland Cheuk is the most recent award-winning author of three fiction books.No good Very bad Asian. His writing has appeared in The Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, NPR, and Salon, among other outlets.