“The limits of their accommodation” by Blake Sanz


Of course, as a retired English teacher, I could go on for pages on the characteristics that make good writing: nuanced and realistic characters, believable and suspenseful plot, imagery, natural dialogue, etc. However, two elements that I’m particularly fond of are a non-linear plot and lyrical descriptions. The two are featured in “The Limits of Their Home,” by Blake Sanz, this year’s Iowa Short Fiction Award winner.

In Sanz’s recently published book, the characters cross boundaries of culture, language, nationality, society, and morals. The stories take place in Texas, Louisiana, Miami and Mexico, so they resonate particularly with the natives of this region.

The first story of “Part I – The Lives of the Saints” is “¡Hablamos! About two 17-year-old girls from Mexico City who travel to Miami to participate in a Spanish talk show similar to “The Jerry Springer Show”. We give them pseudonyms and we ask them to “play” two sisters who will first argue vehemently, then shock and outrage the public, who want to be shocked and outraged. The girls see it as a lark, but the show doesn’t go as planned.

In “After the Incident, Mary Vasquez Teaches Burlesque,” the main character delivers a monologue to her students, revealing her transformation from ballet to burlesque, from Maria to Marina Valentina, and suggesting that she was prompted by the crossing of a moral border. The monologue is filled with delightful alliterative expressions and epithets, such as “traitor and titillating translator” (61) and “Madames Magdaléniennes du Metroplex” (54) and “floozie companions” (59). Despite the clever and fun language, the story is not a comedy, but rather a boisterous triumph over trauma.

The final story in Part I, “Godfather”, introduces us to Manuel and Tommy and prepares the reader for “Part II – Manuel and Tommy”. Each of the stories in this part is about one or both characters and their failures in their father / son relationship. The stories are not in chronological order, but work together to produce a cohesive narrative, which makes this part more of a short story than a collection of short fiction films.

In fact, there is an additional story in Part I that includes a character that we will see later in Part II. After I finished the book, I found myself going back to the early stories to find more connections. I also find this book still in my head long after I finish it.

“Hurricane Gothic,” Part I, is another non-linear story about a Louisiana man who repeatedly rebuilds his home after a succession of hurricanes. He also has to deal with his drug addict son, whom he is trying to reform after being released from prison, and his own depression.

The stories in Sanz’s collection are so moving and evocative that I would like to describe each one. However, it would be best if you read the collection. In fact, I suggested this title to my book club, hoping to discuss it with them later. Although this is the first collection of Sanz stories to be published, I hope to see a lot more work from him, both in short and long form.

The conversation

If you have a recommendation, question, want to add to the conversation, or read more reviews, please visit my blog at ByTheBookBTX.blogspot.com or email [email protected]

Bennett is a retired English and journalism teacher. She sits on the board of the Bastrop public library and writes a monthly column for the advertiser.

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