I first heard of Lysley Tenorio a little more than a decade ago, when his story “Superassassin” came out in The Atlantic. “Superassassin” is the rare work that gets a child narrator right, and it features all of what I now recognize as the trademarks of Tenorio’s work: startling imagery, moments of sadness combined with gestures of heartbreaking intimacy, and an unstinting commitment to character. Monstress, Tenorio’s first collection, is out from Ecco this month. Characters include transsexuals, lepers, healers, and a horror-movie screenwriter named Checkers. Reading about them, you feel, as the narrator of “Felix Starro” says, “that breath of relief that there is someone in the world, finally, who understands what hurts you.”
There’s an emphasis in this collection on the power of imagination. The narrator of “Superassassin” is a young boy whose fantasies have started to eclipse reality, and the narrator’s teenage sister in “L’amour, CA” follows her dreams about America and love to an unhappy ending. In “Felix Starro,” the grandfather performs ritual “cleansings” for men and women who believe themselves to be truly healed. What place do you think imagination has in our lives as children and how does that change, or not, as we become adults?
I can really only speak for myself. As a kid, I had a pretty good imagination but one that, in retrospect, was fairly systematized to the ways of the world I knew. For example, for years I had a fantasy world on the side, one in which I was a child star who had his own sitcom, was a frequent guest on talk shows, and even had a few cameos on—should I admit this?—Dynasty. Read More