A spinster whose body is wrecked with a mysterious growth carefully crafts porcelain dolls to send as wedding presents. Letters, both published and private, threaten to unravel a ballerina’s life and career. A wife struggles free of a crippling affliction, only to be silenced as soon as she succeeds. A young girl’s suppressed desire leads to a tragic conclusion. In Reclaiming Medusa, sudden outbreaks of violence are never far from the surface, though the origin may often surprise. Diana Velez’s carefully chosen short stories, from the magnificent master of style Rosario Ferré (whose novel I previously raved about in this article) to wonderful horror-spinning Mayra Montero, deliver powerful, punchy stories laden with ruminations on womanhood and femininity in Puerto Rico.
The collection begins with a well-articulated and thorough introduction that discusses many of the issues alluded to in the book. The introduction is dense, but packed with interesting notes and bits of insight. One of my favorite passages takes the reader through a series of perspective switches in one of the stories, breaking them down with a critical eye. It’s enlightening stuff, made all the more so by the discussion surrounding the variety of approaches taken to battling the institutional repression of women by the various authors. Add on the translator’s preface detailing some of the more interesting decisions she made with the text, and what you’ve got is a well-compiled look into an interesting part of Puerto Rico.
The stories themselves veer from mundane to fantastical in an appealing manner, the natural proximity of sometimes grotesque horror to the female narrative providing many opportunities to showcase unsettling details of everyday life. However, that isn’t to say that the women of the stories simply suffer like extras in a slasher film. They are often clever, subtly shifting the balance of power until the full force of their unmitigated fury is unleashed. There is humor present too—often of the dark, gallows variety, but possessing steel and the will to challenge. I found this short story collection full to the brim with good stories that tease genre conventions with grace, alacrity, and (most importantly) purpose.
Diana Velez translated and edited this series of eleven short stories in 1988. While inextricably tied to its time, even now it is an important connection to Puerto Rican culture, and is above all else an enjoyable look at short stories from some supremely talented writers.
Additionally, if you would like to look at a more recent collection of works from Puerto Rico, give a look to Puerto Rico Strong, a comics anthology from Lion Forge. It’s filled with some incredible work, and touches on some historical aspects of Puerto Rican society that are sometimes hard to find. It’s powerful, moving, raw, and is an important read. I can’t recommend checking it out highly enough.