March 11, 2022
Esther Alix’s Stories of Gabriel
Never been a fan of spoilers, but the consensus is this book is difficult to put down. So I’ll try my best not to give it all away, because the stakes are high from the very beginning, worth reading every word.
The journey opens up centered around coffee: the joy of it, the making of it, the drama around it, the staple-ness of it in most Latino households… café. The reader is given anecdotal introductions of personalities to be expanded upon throughout the book, but first through the eyes of married couple, Eli and Domingo. How they see their neighbors, a loss that drifts them apart. However, nothing compares to the betrayal years later that causes a chain of events a lot of wedded pairs could never come back from.
Haunting and intricate, Stories of Gabriel isn’t just any love story, yet merely a peak into several interconnected characters, with loves lost or found, new or lasting. All taking place within a few street corners of each other, the vibrant Latino Caribbean culture of a 1990’s Bronx neighborhood is brought to life by debut fiction Dominican-American writer, Esther Alix.
Alix explores tightly knit community, food, music, culture, and conflicts. She has a way of examining the human condition and the contrast of peoples various coping mechanisms. Where one person may lean on friends and family to cope with loss, another seeks comfort at the bottom of a bottle or in the arms of other lovers. The complete disregard of another persons feelings on one hand, and in the other grace for whoever needs it, including the one who grasps it.
Lorenzo’s chapter centers on the Cain-and-Abel-like relationship between him and his brother, Marco. An almost lifetime long crush, various love triangles and another loss. Enough to bring anyone who has experienced this type of hurt, or at the very least knows someone who has, to shiver with every syllable on the page.
“Lorenzo watches Marco step into the room. He watches as the door closes slowly. His skin is on fire. It prickles and burns. He rubs his arms vigorously. Watching his brother break down makes Lorenzo realize how little he actually knows Marco.”
According to her website, Alix identifies as a Black Latina, and is the eldest child of immigrants from the Dominican Republic. Agreeably so, through her characters, Alix peels open each one’s capacity for holding loss and level of acceptance of the inevitable. Her emotive and deliberate prose, lush with words rich with sabor, lives in the memory long after the covers close.
After an established career spanning two decades as a fund-raiser in New York’s elite philanthropic and non-profit circles, Alix now sets her sights on carving out her own legacy. Stories of Gabriel is her debut short story collection. A graduate of Hunter College, she has a zest for life that belies the often ominous themes of her writing. She loves to laugh, commune with her large extended family, watch and produce independent festival selected films such as Begin Again (2002) and Skateboard (2009).
The complex characters in Stories of Gabriel could be our own parental figures, siblings, best friend, crush, lover, our neighbor, child… even us, the reader. Relatable if you’ve lived through any of these experiences. They also lend themselves to compassion for those who have never witnessed such heart ache, but can sympathize. Yet through it all, hope and love prevail.
As you navigate through each mini episode, you may ask yourself, “well, who is Gabriel?”. Let us know in the comments below when you realize the answer.