Raising the hairs on the back of your neck from Cuba
Truthfully I can’t read Maria Elena Llana’s stories before bed. The offerings in An Address in Havana/ Domicilio habanero (bilingual edition) are just a bit too spooky. Now don’t get me wrong, they aren’t grotesque or gruesome, not gory or Silence of the Lambs horror. But they do very much remind me that there are just too many unexplainable phenomena, and too many people that I wouldn’t trust farther than I could throw them. And I’m not what you would call a power lifter, so I’d prefer not to be reminded of what goes bump in the night EXCEPT when the sun is still shining.
Take, for instance, “At the Water’s Edge.” No spoilers, of course, but here we have a family made up of three generations of women, without a man in physical sight. That’s not to say that the grandma doesn’t bring up her daughter’s missing husband every few minutes, how he provided such a good home for her them all, how ungrateful his wife was, and how horrid she must have been to drive him away. But there is something not quite right going on, because the woman (who actually narrates the story) doesn’t seem like the type to drive anyone away. She is so timid that she doesn’t even discipline her own teenage daughter, despite how the girl talks back and acts out. And then she starts flashing back to her creepy childhood memories…
In another story, “The Wrought Iron Gate”, the main character goes from nervous to anxious to terrified, as he first crouches in a loaner apartment, then flees through the streets, then desperately fights sleep. Eyes always peeled for a suspicious movement, listening for the sounds that could herald his doom, he brings us into a nocturnal world of shadows that such a young man is not at all prepared for.
Not all of the tales are quite so frightening, though; some are more along the lines of weird, with just a hint of danger from unpredictable beings–be they alive or dead. Such as in “In the Family” where a family’s large gilt-framed mirror is inhabited by all their ancestors (r.i.p.), not all of whom can be trusted. Especially when one of the young women on the “living” side starts tempting fate.
A longtime journalist with several books to her name (fiction and non-fiction), Llana definitely knows how to spin a tale. Translator Barbara Riess doesn’t miss a trick, keeping the suspense sharp and the dialogue natural. An Address in Havana/Domicilio habanero is a must read, especially for those of us who like a little edge to our entertainment. But if you’re like me, I wouldn’t recommend taking the book to bed, especially if you are alone… Or live in a big city… Or can’t completely trust everyone in your house, or apartment building, or neighborhood…
An Address in Havana/Domicilio habanero is available at http://www.csuchico.edu/Cubanabooks, at your local independent bookstore, or on Amazon. Maria Elena Llana will be on tour in the USA Fall 2015–contact firstname.lastname@example.org about booking an appearance.