“Goodbye cruel world,” has become a cliche in books and movies when someone is about to leap from a cliff or use some other method to bring about their demise. But readers will want to say hello to Luis Negrón’s “Mundo Cruel,” which has been translated from Spanish into English by Suzanne Jill Levine and won this year’s Lambda Literary Award for general gay fiction.
Set mostly in Santurce, Puerto Rico, Negrón’s stories explore some of the cruelties of life without ever being a downer. In fact, he interjects plenty of humor and sarcasm as he explores what it is like for gays living in the Puerto Rican culture. Not only does he examine the prejudice and bigotry toward gay people on the island, he also shows how homosexuals treat one another, which can also often be cruel.
Negrón starts the book at his most provocative with a short story about “The Chosen One,” a new son of God who lives a promiscuous lifestyle despite his piety. One can only imagine a Christian reader scratching his or her head after reading this seemingly sacrilegious story that drips with irony.
Negrón uses all types of narrative structures to drive his stories. Two women of different socio-economic strata gossip over a fence to create the dialogue for an installment titled “So Many: Or On How the Wagging Tongue Sometimes Can Cast a Spell.” One-sided conversations provide the setup and substance for a few stories, including “La Edwin” and “Junito,” the latter about a man who fears for his son growing up in the homophobic atmosphere that surrounds him.
And there are references to the AIDS crisis in the ’80s, including “The Garden,” a heart-rending, beautiful story about the close bonds created between two people when a mutual loved one is in peril.
There are nine stories in this collection and each has a different viewpoint about the human condition of gays in Puerto Rico. The stuffed dog on the cover is a creepy reminder that cruelty can take many forms, such as the nearly tragic story of an aging gay man who wants to have his beloved pet immortalized by a taxidermist. The goal leads to unexpected consequences that seemly cruelly deserved.