The Fish Tank: And Other Short Stories
By: Maria Elena Alonso-Sierra
Publication Date: December 2016
Reviewed by: Holly Connors
Life in Cuba during the early days of the Castro regime, a crazy roller coaster ride, and a murder mystery are just a few of the short story topics that will grab your attention in The Fish Tank.
This wonderful collection of short stories begins with "Jerry's Gift," a fun tale of a recently divorced woman who gets a final, unexpected gift from her louse of an ex-husband. At just two and a half-pages in length, it's hard to imagine getting sucked into the story, but that's exactly what happened to this reviewer. Maureen is in her great-grandfather's home, now her home, which she plans to renovate, thanks to Jerry's gift. The author expertly sets the mood, complete with a porch and a glass of lemonade that will keep you wondering about that gift. When the truth is revealed, every divorced woman will likely expel a gleeful laugh. Sweet justice is fun.
From a gift to a crazy roller coaster ride that will get your heart pounding, the author next moves to her most personal section, several stories based in/about Cuba, her birthplace, but no longer her "home." The title story, "The Fish Tank," centers on a little girl, Matilde, and her mother, as they wait at the airport in Cuba. Matilde and her mother, along with several other Cubans, have been granted passage out of Cuba. But first, they must wait in a glassed-in room, where other travelers can look and gawk at them. Don't fidget, Matilde tells herself, just as her mother warned. The last thing they want to do is draw attention to themselves. Matilde clings to her doll and listens silently to the whispers of the adults. Don't twitch, don't fidget, and don't touch her skirt, she tells herself again. The tension is thick in the room as the passengers wait to see if they will indeed be granted a spot on the plane.
Three more stories about life in Cuba or Cubans who have escaped follow and again, each draws the reader into the lives of the various characters. Next it's a complete change of pace with a museum that just might be haunted...or is it? Then it's on to a fun "who-dun-it" story staring Detective Nick Larson. The murder he's investigating seems pretty straightforward, particularly since it was caught on tape by the home's security system. However, something in Nick's gut is telling him it's not right - sure, the couple was separated, heading for divorce, but still...
Many people mistakenly think that it's easy to write a great short story. It is, in fact, quite difficult to, in just a few pages, draw the reader in, make them care about the characters/story/plot and leave them satisfied at the end. Within the first few paragraphs of the first story, I knew that the author had mastered the genre and that The Fish Tank was going to be a very good read. The author set the stage quickly in each story, wasting no words, but through her perfect descriptive language, drawing an image, or a plot, that jumped off the pages. In "The Fish Tank," as the hopeful passengers wait, tension slowly rises and it's easy to get a sense of what the characters must have felt. Even in a story as light-hearted as "Rites of Passage" where a mother is taking her son on a roller coaster ride, a ride she definitely does not want to go on, the slow build-up of nerves as they wait in line, the quickening of the mother's heartbeat, her sweaty palms, everything in fact, builds it up perfectly and I had images of the last time I'd braved such a ride. Each and every story in this book was one I thoroughly enjoyed and the characters have lingered in my mind long after I closed the book.
Quill says: The Fish Tank is at times fun, exhilarating, haunting and intriguing. The author has done an excellent job of capturing the essence of the short story genre in this fantastic collection.
For more information on The Fish Tank: And Other Short Stories, please visit the author's website at: www.mariaelenawrites.com