Sunday, May 3, 2015

Review:: The Stories of Eva Luna, by Isabel Allende

Title: The Stories of Eva Luna
Author: Isabel Allende
Format: Hardcover
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Isabel Allende's style works well for short stories; many of her novels feel like short stories entwined into a longer piece of fiction. In many ways, The Story of Eva Luna is Allende at her best: sensual and startling, heavy with magical realism, and handling serious issues with beauty and gravity. Unfortunately, I felt like many of the stories were fleeting, leaving me with no impact. The ones that did, though, were well worth my time.

First of all, the prose is simply beautiful. I haven't read an Allende book where the writing wasn't drop dead gorgeous, but I felt like this collection was a better representation of her writing than Portrait in Sepia. Sometimes, it's easy to get lost in the beauty of her words, losing track of the story.

The premise of The Stories of Eva Luna is a play on Arabian Nights. Eva Luna's lover tells her to tell him tales, and this is what she responds with. I wish more had been done with the premise, like in Ray Bradbury's The Illustrated Man, but it's possible I missed some allusions that were hidden in the text.

And while I mentioned that many of the stories were fleeting, there were a few that stood out as the cream of the crop. My favorite was the first one in the collection, which used a wonderful magical realist framework to harp on the beauty and power of language. The book as a whole, though, I think suffered from the fact that the first was my favorite. In fact, most of the stories I liked the most were loaded at the front, meaning as I progressed throughout the collection, I felt more and more disillusioned.

Another strong point for Allende is her ability to take and hold highly conservative viewpoints I don't agree with and not make me feel like she's moralizing. (Unlike Innocence.) In fact, it's often difficult to tell if these are her viewpoints or if they're simply an artifact of the era she so often writes in or the attitudes of the characters. Frex, there's a lot of homophobia tied up in the tales (and in many of her books), but I never feel like I'm personally being told I'm wrong and bad.

Perhaps The Stories of Eva Luna would have been better if I'd read a story a night, rather than reading the entire collection at once. Perhaps then more of the stories would have had an impact, and I would have appreciated them more. It's hard to rate a collection of short stories where I'm floored by some and simply feel "meh" on others. And I certainly don't want to go through and rate every tale.

I'd recommend this collection for anyone who loves Allende's writing, but for folks who are new to her, I'd certainly suggest starting with something else.

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