book cover of santa rita storiesReviewed by Alisha Churbe

Santa Rita Stories is a novel (not a short story collection as I had anticipated) about the stories of Santa Rita, Cuba as told to the reader by a young narrator, Carlos, who is hearing the stories told by Pedro, a character who resides in the town.  Pedro is an older, seasoned man, homeless, a bit eccentric and lives in squalor near the wharf of the small fishing village. He smokes discarded cigar butts, swigs cheap rum and reads anything he can get his hands on. He seems to live in this way by choice, not by circumstance, though there are parts of his past that could explain how he ended up in his current situation.

Rodriguez’s narration fits the subject matter perfectly.  He sits the reader down and spins tales. As the stories progress and the town comes into clearer view, we at the same time get to see the narrator, Carlos, grow up. Carlos begins quite young and we see some of his adventures through his teenage years and ending with his departure for school in Havana. Carlos’ journey is threaded through Pedro’s accounts of the town that would be considered legends. The reader is shown the city from a unique character (Pedro), who happens to see and hear things because many people treat him as if he’s invisible due to his social status and way that he chooses to live. Many of the stories Pedro tells Carlos read like legends of the town, but also have a fable-like quality and something to be learned.

Rodriguez’s story is worth the read.  Some of the writing is too loose for my taste and could benefit from some tightening. The main characters (Pedro and Carlos) are well-defined, but some of the ancillary characters are flat and hard to distinguish from each other. Rodriguez does a fair job of transporting the reader to Santa Rita. The words are usually reserved for the characters and dialogue and skip over the sensory details of the town. All in all, the novel is readable. The stories of Santa Rita and Pedro are interesting.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

Part-time fiction writer, Alisha Churbe lives in Portland, Oregon. In the rare instances when you can pry her away from books, Alisha can be found travelling in foreign countries, cooking, or hiking with her husband Michael and dog Euro.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Andrew J. Rodriguez. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.