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Monstress: Stories Paperback – Deckle Edge, January 31, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


“Tenorio’s stories, set amid mingling nationalities and generations, prompt comparisons to the works of Junot Díaz and Jhumpa Lahiri… But the refreshingly wry stories...are rangier and...focused on uncanny moments when a character realizes that something essential to his or her life might be...false and frightening.” (Los Angeles Times)

“[W]insome…illuminating…[Tenorio] manages to make fabulous setups plausible through his meticulous crafting, deeply imagining the lives of a memorable cast of eccentrics.... For readers who shy away from short stories on the grounds that they’re often quiet or uneventful...Tenorio might make a convert of you.” (San Francisco Chronicle)

“Tenorio, born in the Philippines and raised in California, has taken a uniquely Filipino-American perspective, polyglot and glittering with cinema dreams, and used it to make a bold collection of stories of the rejected, the helpless and the lost. Monstress is the debut of a singular talent.” (

“A wondrous clutch of stories that pits the customs and superstitions of his Philippines homeland against the fads and fetishes of his adopted America. Set in Manila, Hollywood, and San Francisco, these yarns feature... memorably endearing eccentrics.” (Elle)

“Tenorio writes persuasively about otherness and connection… [his] characters are zany, witty, and beautifully drawn… Ultimately, though, it is the unassuming pitch of these stories that makes them so exquisitely deadly.” (Slate, The XX Factor)

“[Monstress] introduces a unique voice from an underrepresented slice of the American experience.” (The Onion A.V. Club)

“[A] compassionate and entertaining new collection…The book’s most poignant tale is Save the I-Hotel, a chiaroscuro of loneliness that’s also a quiet portrait of abiding friendship and life-changing betrayal.” (Boston Globe)

“Tenorio skillfully balances the beautiful and grotesque, the fantastical and commonplace to arrive at his particularly insightful renderings of the human condition.... [The] reader feels an immediate sense of intimacy with the most unlikely of protagonists.” (The Oregonian (Portland))

“Tenorio lays bare hearts that dare to hope but wind up disappointed, always with the wit and power of a born storyteller.” (San Francisco Weekly)

“[A]n impressive debut… Although the situations are sometimes bleak, the stories benefit from Tenorio’s wry sense of humor.” (San Jose Mercury News)

“Complex, and powerful....This first collection introduces a writer of great promise, whose stories can illustrate tenderness at one minute and human cruelty not much later. Tenorio’s writing is immediate, visceral even....[A] vital addition for short-fiction collections [and] readers of Junot Diaz, Chang-Rae Lee, and Jessica Hagedorn.” (Booklist)

“[An] intimate and admirably controlled debut story collection… [Monstress is] an introduction to a promising writer who knows how to get a reader’s attention....Tenorio has a great knack for striking story premises… [and] cultivates a plainspoken (but not blunt) style that recalls Tobias Wolff.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“Spanning several decades and diverse settings, Tenorio’s debut story collection is a vibrant survey of Filipino-American immigrant history. The tales are tragic, but Tenorio makes the most of his gift for black humor.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))

“The stories in Monstress announce the debut of an electric literary talent. Brilliantly quirky, often moving, always gorgeously told, these are tales of big-hearted misfits who yearn for their authentic selves with extraordinary passion and grace. Bravo for this fabulous American fiction!” (Chang-Rae Lee, NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author of NATIVE SPEAKER and THE SURRENDER)

“Lysley Tenorio is a writer of sly wit and lively invention—these are stories bursting with wonders...but most wondrous of all is his intimate sense of character. Each story is a confession of love betrayed, told with a mournful, austere tenderness as heartbreaking as it is breathtaking.” (Peter Ho Davies, author of THE WELSH GIRL)

Lysley Tenorio’s darkly funny stories capture the contradictions and complexities of being both Filipino and a citizen of the world. Tenorio is a deep and original writer, and Monstress is simply a beautiful book. (Jessica Hagedorn, author of DOGEATERS)

“Tenorio is that rare breed of writer who mines gold from the impossible. He sees everything—the absurd and the tragic, the funny and profound—and delivers stories that are as true to life as any you will ever read.” (Ben Fountain, PEN/Hemingway award-winning author of BRIEF ENCOUNTERS WITH CHE GUEVARA)

“In these fantastic stories, Tenorio skillfully blends the unlikely and the emotional, the bizarre and the humane. His writing portrays the universal human condition through unique specificity, and is very deserving of attention.” (Rishi Reddi, author of KARMA AND OTHER STORIES)

“Lysley Tenorio’s first book [is] better than I hoped: poignant, imaginative, somehow sad and funny all at once. Tenorio’s characters walk tightropes strung between the Philippines and America, between illusions and reality, between family ties and the need to strike out alone. Monstress is a wonderful read. ” (Anthony Doerr, author of MEMORY WALL)

“Tenorio’s wit is understated; his writing is deft and self-assured; his dramas don’t shout, but whisper, seductive and heartfelt. Monstress is one of the wisest and heartfelt collections I’ve read. I’ve waited a long time for this book.” (Daniel Orozco, author of ORIENTATION AND OTHER STORIES)

Monstress is an exhilarating rollercoaster of a book. Deeply funny, heartbreaking, hopeful, philosophical, bawdy, and wise, Tenorio’s stories, written from the underbelly of the American Dream, present one brilliant portrait after another.” (Sabina Murray, PEN/Faulkner Award-winning author of THE CAPRICES and TALES OF THE NEW WORLD)

“MONSTRESS, a debut collection of short stories by Lysley Tenorio, is a gift: a chance to understand what those Filipino émigrés might have been saying about their lives, loves, disappointments and sense of being the other…Don’t expect happy endings, but do expect to be moved, dazzled and surprised.” (Washington Independent Review of Books)

“[A] jittery, caffeinated, dazzling collection with a poignant center. The characters, straddling Filipino and American traditions, will charm you with their wit and devastate you with their loneliness. And in addition to being quirky and moving, the eight stories unfold beautifully in language that evokes…Junot Diaz.” (Slate)

From the Back Cover

Monstress introduces a bold new writer who explores the clash and meld of disparate cultures. In the National Magazine Award-nominated title story, a has-been movie director and his reluctant leading lady travel from Manila to Hollywood for one last chance at stardom, unaware of what they truly stand to lose. In "Felix Starro," a famous Filipino faith healer and his grandson conduct an illicit business in San Francisco, though each has his own plans for their earnings. And after the Beatles reject an invitation from Imelda Marcos for a Royal Command Performance, an aging bachelor attempts to defend her honor by recruiting his three nephews to attack the group at the Manila International Airport in "Help."

Lysley Tenorio reveals the lives of people on the outside looking in with rare skill, humor, and deep understanding, in stories framed by tense, fascinating dichotomies—tenderness and power, the fantastical and the realistic, the familiar and the strange. Breathtakingly original, Monstress marks the arrival of a singular new voice in American fiction.

If you buy a new print edition of this book (or purchased one in the past), you can buy the Kindle edition for only $2.99 (Save 71%). Print edition purchase must be sold by Amazon. Learn more.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; Original edition (January 31, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062059564
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062059567
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #354,436 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Lysley Tenorio is the author of MONSTRESS, a collection of stories from Ecco/HarperCollins. His stories have appeared in The Atlantic, Zoetrope: All-Story, Ploughshares, Manoa, and The Best New American Voices and Pushcart Prize anthologies. A Whiting Writer's Award winner and a former Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, he has received fellowships from the University of Wisconsin, Phillips Exeter Academy, Yaddo, The MacDowell Colony, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Born during an earthquake in Olongapo City, Philippines, he currently lives in San Francisco, and is an associate professor at Saint Mary's College of California.

Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on March 6, 2012
Format: Paperback
When I finished Lysley Tenorio's book of short stories, Monstress, one of the first things that struck me is how suprisingly delightful it was, given the dark themes of almost every story. Maybe that is because along with the deeply emotional situations dealing with tragedy and distress, there is always the quirky, the absurd, the funny and (sometimes) the ridiculous right along with it. I think the magic of this book is the way the absurd doesn't overwhelm the tragic, and vice versa. The richly drawn characters are complex and it is easy to identify with them, even if their situations are alien and, often, weird.

For example, when I read a summary of the story Help, I was skeptical. It seemed too ridiculous a plot to work without creating a caricature of the protagonists; it would be so easy to overtell the story of a group of teenagers attacking The Beatles in a Manila airport. But the author manages to avoid both of these pitfalls. Instead, you are somehow made to understand how the external and internal conflicts of this place, this time, and these people converged into this event.

One of the most moving stories in the collection, in my opinion, is The Brothers. Once again, the author evades the easy and obvious tricks of plot and character, choosing instead to focus on the heart and soul of the story. Among the four main characters, one of whom is dead, there are incredible chasms of personality and motivation. Yet the author someone mananages to allow you to empathize, at least on some level, with each one of them.

These stories are sad...but funny. They are ridiculous....but they ring true. The characters can be exotic...but I challenge anyone to not find something identifiable in them. I recommended it to my mom, and she loved it just as much as I did. The author's voice is new, fresh, and I can't wait to read more.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Bella on July 13, 2012
Format: Paperback
These are some of the most poignant and wonderful short stories I can remember reading. I opened the book with no expectations (the book by the way is a lovely paperback, the paper-stock is a pleasure, the cover an after-reminder (for me) of the wonderful stories). What I loved about the stories is that each one felt like a work of pure imagination, each took me to another world and yet each had consistent themes of love: lost, found and bittersweet. I think I got hooked about the third story when i realized that each would be completely different and imagine a completely different world, from a leper colony, to the central valley of California, to the characters own mind, to the I-Hotel in San Francisco. The last was my favorite. The story of these two very old immigrants sad life was beautiful and deeply moving. It will stay with me for a long time. The collection reminds me of how much more satisfying short fiction is than the vast majority of novels.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By H. Williams on August 5, 2013
Format: Paperback
Tenorio manages to be both outrageously funny and heart-breakingly sad in the space of a few pages of his stories. All of the stories in this first collection are the same length (30 pages) but present different characters in their local settings. He is an excellent short story author tying slightly cliched characters, small plots, and shifting realizations together into an amazing Filipino stew.

"Monstress" is a spectacular opening to the collection. It is the story of a cheesy Filipino B-movie horror actress who makes the move to Hollywood with mixed results. "The Brothers" describes a family's varied responses to a transgendered brother. "Felix Starro" uncovers the previously unknown (to me) world of fake faith surgeons and healers. "The View from Culion" describes a tenuous relationship between two very different patients in a remote leper colony. "Superassassin" is a super-hero fantasy told from the point of view of a geeky young man who escapes his disappointing world with his friend via comic book fandom. "Help" recalls the time The Beatles visited The Philippines and may have insulted the beautiful and powerful Imelda Marcos. "Save the I-Hotel" moves back and forth in time to describe the life of an elderly closeted gay man who moved from working and living in the fields to work in one hotel and live in another residential hotel in San Francisco. "L'amour, CA" tells the story of an Army family that moves to the US only to discover that not everything is golden there.

In each story, Tenorio creates a very different but real world that illuminates the strict and family-oriented Filipino culture in a changing world. Tenorio gets bonus points for diversity in character and technique, but I wish there was an over-arching theme or some piece of connective tissue, other than vague disappointment and the Philippine Island culture, to tie the stories together.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By gn on October 3, 2012
Format: Paperback
I picked up this book of stories at a recent reading. To my surprise, it's now just a few days later and I've finished it. Each story made me reflect, but not so long that I didn't begin the next shortly after.

The voice is clear, sophisticated, and practiced. The stories are distinct, though I don't find them as quirky as many other reviewers seem to. The plots aren't full of twists, but satisfying deviations from what I expected came up regularly. But they aren't there for the sake of surprising us; they flow so naturally from the characters' motivations that it is startling that they are a surprise at all. That's what I think the beauty of these stories is.

If you're a proponent of grade inflation, this is easily worth 5 stars.

They are clearly of a piece, and I can easily imagine a novel along these lines from Mr. Tenorio in the future. We can hope...

Buy the book (from your local bookseller).
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