Santa Rita Stories by Andrew J. Rodriguez

9781478736981Carlos is a young Cuban on the cusp of adulthood from the seaside town of Santa Rita.  Life here is as picturesque as you might imagine: plenty of fishing, drinking, and games by the beach, idyllic panoramas wherever you set your gaze, local traditions and gossip and folklore – and the town drunk, an elderly man by the name of Pedro who entertains Carlos with tales from his own life and from those he’s merely heard about.  Pedro lives in an abandoned mill filled with used books and newspapers – he has to keep his mind sharp, after all – and survives seemingly on just a brew he makes using rum, water, and a dash of brown sugar scraped up from the docks.  At fifteen years old, Carlos has yet to face the sort of hardship that Pedro himself has been through (though Carlos might be quick to tell you that grade school is enough of a hardship as it stands).  Through story, Carlos learns about Pedro’s past and gets free lessons in things like honesty, enterprise, and how to kiss a girl properly.  As the unlikely pair delves deeper into Cuba’s cultural annals, it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish between past and present, fact and fiction.  Carlos and Pedro learn that everyone has something to learn from others, and time – when bisected and crystallized in powerfully resonant tales – reveals itself to be simply an illusion.

Santa Rita Stories, Rodriguez’s impressive fifth work of fiction, is at once evocative of and nothing like anything else we’ve read.  The structure of the novel – a core story involving Carlos and Pedro with small vignettes strewn throughout – affords it a general lightness that keeps readers flipping pages just when other similar novels begin to wear thin.  What’s even more impressive is the magic Rodriguez manages to work around the many fleeting characters that appear throughout Pedro’s tales.  Round rather than flat, these are people you would want to meet in real life.  Fundamentally, Santa Rita Stories tells us that it is impossible to draw quick conclusions about a person; what makes us beautiful or intelligent or capable are the many separate moments that compose our lives.

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