Kali Farjado-Anstine’s masterful collection of short stories, Sabrina & Corina, is a force to be reckoned with. The book, a 2019 National Book Award Finalist for Fiction, features resilient characters inhabiting the picturesque landscape of Denver, Colorado. Fajardo-Anstine, a Chicanx/Latinx author from Denver, has written unforgettable, women-centered stories which illuminate the myriad ways that life creates rupture and transition for Colorado Latinas and indigenous women who populate her narratives. The book’s title comes from one of the many exemplary stories in the book, “Sabrina & Corina,” which grapples with domestic violence and its aftermath.
“Sabrina & Corina” is a story about women’s friendship between protagonist, Corina Cordova, and her cousin, Sabrina Cordova. However, it is also about domestic violence and the price women pay for enduring bad relationships. In this pitch-perfect story Corina Cordova is gathering with her family at Sabrina’s funeral, who has recently died a violent death by strangulation. The story is chock full of Chicanx cultural icons from references to 1940s Latina Hollywood starlet, Dolores Del Rio, to the staple Chicanx cautionary tale of dancing with the devil told by Sabrina’s abuela to ward her away from the bad intentions of handsome suitors.
And, in this regard, Fajardo-Anstine’s storyteller resonated for me. The tale about dancing with the devil is one that seeped into my then-high school daughter’s subconscious when she had one of her first crushes. After waking one morning filled with the excitement of the interest of a new suitor, my daughter proceeded to vividly recount a dream she had the night before with which her new love interest had appeared. Then, without missing a beat, she muttered, “But Mami, he had hooves. My guy was dancing with me, but he had hooves!” Like the same story Sabrina’s grandmother had told her, I had obviously conveyed the popular folklore about dancing with the devil to my own young adult since she so perfectly replicated it in her dream.
In a way, “Sabrina & Corina” reflects the crux of the entire collection of stories with its lineage of female protagonists and also their common theme of loss and suffering. As the Cordova women line the pews of the church waiting for the funeral to begin, Fajardo-Anstine writes of the Cordova’s loss:
“I thought of all the women my family had lost, the horrible things they had witnessed, the acts they simply endured. Sabrina had become another face in a long line of tragedies that stretched back generations.”
Other stories such as “Sugar Babies” and “Julian Plaza” feature young Latina protagonists and are rife with symbolism and irony. “Sugar Babies” revolves around Sierra Cordova, a middle schooler who is required to raise a 5-pound bag of sugar as her ‘sugar baby’ for a class assignment. On a base level, “Sugar Babies” depicts a simulated parenting project. In the story, Sierra is raised largely by her father as her mom abandoned the family years earlier. The irony in the story is not to be missed as Sierra begins bonding with her “sugar baby” Miranda, though she is estranged from her own mother.
Themes of mental illness, domestic violence, substance abuse, and family estrangement are woven throughout the collection of stories. I have many favorites including “Sabrina and Corina,” ”Sugar Babies,” “Julian Plaza,” and “Any Further West.” I read these stories slowly to appreciate the rich, precise prose and deep cultural meaning. In addition, I read the stories deliberately over several days because many of them shattered me through the underlying message of loss, but then I picked myself up off the ground as many of the characters showed resilience and hope. The book should solidify Fajardo-Anstine’s place in the canon of Latinx literature with cohorts like Anzaldua, Castillo, Cisneros, and Anaya. I highly recommend the book for those interested in Latinx literature, women-centered narratives, and stories of loss, estrangement, and survival.
Sabrina & Corina: Stories
By Kali Fajardo-Anstine
219 pages. 2019.
Buy it here.