Serena Crawford/Lysley Tenorio

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‘Monstress’ by Lysley Tenorio (Ecco, 2012)

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The stories in Lysley Tenorio’s brilliant debut collection Monstress are full of underdogs and misfits, many of them attempting—through hoax or deception—to gain a leg up in the world. In the title story “Monstress,” an actress longs to leave a career of low-budget horror movies—along with low-budget costumes—for Hollywood romance. In “Felix Starro,” a third-generation Filipino healer, who helps his grandfather perform the Holy Blessed Extraction of Negativities, seeks out an honest new American life. A bachelor uncle tries to defend the honor of Imelda Marcos by summoning his three nephews to defeat the Beatles—or meet them, as his nephews see it—in the story “Help.”

You know you love a book when you find yourself rooting for the Bat-Winged Pygmy Queen over Doris Day, or wanting to believe a concoction of corn syrup and red dye is blood. When a fifteen-year-old comic-book fan views himself as a superhero with strange mutant abilities, I’m inclined to agree. Tenorio deftly brings us in on the jokes—the book is laugh-out-loud funny—then leaves us heartbroken when we come to understand the sorrow in fangs made of toilet paper, the dignity in a comical brawl at the Manila International Airport, or the devastation of a locker-room prank taken too far.

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Serena Crawford’s fiction has appeared in Epoch, Ascent, The Florida Review, Nimrod, Other Voices, and elsewhere. The recipient of a 2010 NEA grant, she was a finalist for the 2013 Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction and Spokane Prize for Short Fiction.