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The King Is Always Above the People: Stories (Alarcon, Daniel) Hardcover – October 31, 2017
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"These stories explore immigration, family loyalty and redemption. Alarcón throws his characters into high-stakes situations to draw out humanity where it seems little hope is left." —The Washington Post
“Alarcón is an empathic observer of the isolated human, whether isolated by emigration or ambition, blindness or loneliness, poverty or war. His stories have a reporter's mix of kindness and detachment, and perhaps as a result, his endings land like a punch in the gut. . . .He's a brilliant stylist, and there are plenty of moments in this collection where he's happy to flex. . . Alarcón writes about them with a grayscale beauty that few writers can achieve, or try to. His purpose isn't to approve or condemn, or to liberate. He's writing to show us other people's lives, and in every case, it's a pleasure to be shown.” —NPR
"Showcases his talent as a master storyteller. In 10 vivid, captivating stories, Alarcón explores immigration, family relationships, secrets, betrayal, hope, love, heartbreak, forgiveness, and redemption." —Buzzfeed
"Smart, political and incredibly engaging... Alarcón introduces readers to countless unforgettable characters along the way.” —Nylon (25 Books to Read this Fall)
“Vividly realized characters encounter family secrets, uncertain futures, ill-fated love and redemption.” —Chicago Tribune
“Complicated stories, told with consummate skill.” —BBC
“Polished and poetic.” —Vanity Fair
"Elegant." — San Francisco Chronicle
“Spellbinding... Alarcon has a true gift for packing details and significance into short scenes. . . Every portrait is so memorable and sharply written that it lingers in your mind and tests your ability to confront the intense predicaments we all find ourselves in at one point or another.” —Cup of Jo
“Alarcón employs a remarkable range of styles in the book…brilliant…Alarcón’s poetic prose gives his work a dreamlike quality.” —Newsday
“Dark and incisive.” —Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
“Alarcon is a truly impressive writer.” —Boston Globe
“A brilliant meditation on personality and place, character and circumstance, and the decisions small and big (within and beyond) one’s control that can shape a life. Alarcón moves from the personal to the collective, encompassing stories of migration, immigration, violence, loss, hope, love.” —goop
"Superb... Throughout the collection, Alarcón writes with a spellbinding voice and creates a striking cast of characters. Each narrative lands masterfully and memorably, showcasing Alarcón's immense talent." —Publishers Weekly (STARRED REVIEW)
“Dynamic novelist and journalist Alarcón delivers a collection of loosely affiliated short stories, each buzzing and alive…Alarcón’s gift for generating real, tangible characters propels readers through his recognizable yet half-real worlds.” —Booklist
“A smart and understated collection that puts some new twists on old-fashioned identity crises.” —Kirkus
Praise for Daniel Alarcón
"His tales build with all the power of a Flannery O'Connor story: a gentle enough start, an innocent setting, and before long the reader is adrift in a drama that defies the imagination--with characters that live long after the book is closed." —The Washington Post
"Daniel Alarcón is a storyteller whose wisdom outpaces his youth, and whose talent is already ablaze." —ZZ Packer
"Daniel Alarcón writes about subterfuge, lies, and the arbitrary recreation of history with a masterful clarity." —Ann Patchett
Praise for At Night We Walk in Circles
“Wise and engaging . . . [a] layered, gorgeously nuanced work.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“Consistently compelling . . . Alarcón’s smoothly polished prose [is] flecked with wit and surprisingly epigraphic phrases . . . with lines that knock the wind out of you.”
—The Washington Post
“Outstanding . . . a work that creates a multilayered world and invites you to enter it.”
—Hector Tobar, Los Angeles Times
"Masterful... A profound meditation on how identity is less a fixed substance within us than an ever-shifting performance in reaction to a perceived audience." —Anthony Marra, San Francisco Chronicle
“Masterful . . . a sterling novel . . . brave, thoughtful and astute . . . elegant in its construction, it feels perfectly suited to bring Alarcón’s tremendous talent to a wider audience.”
—The Miami Herald
“Compelling . . . an intellectual puzzle.”
—The Boston Globe
About the Author
Daniel Alarcón is the author of At Night We Walk in Circles, which was a finalist for the 2014 Pen-Faulkner Award, as well as the story collection War by Candlelight, the novel Lost City Radio, and the graphic novel City of Clowns. His writing has appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times Magazine, Granta, n+1, and Harpers, and he was named one of the New Yorker’s “20 Under 40.” He is Executive Producer of “Radio Ambulante,” distributed by NPR, and is an assistant professor of broadcast journalism at the Columbia University School of Journalism in New York.
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The book takes place in a mesmeric space, roots emerging from Latin American tradition and experience to intertwine and form stories that resonate across certain cultures. In each of his 10 stories, he doesn’t quite solidify place but suggests at it, and in so doing deftly weaves societal observation and political implications that speak to ancient history, recent history and the present.
In “The Ballad of Rocky Rontal,” a young boy struggling to support his family becomes enmeshed in gang violence. The story unfolds step by devastating step, until all parties are too far gone to ever recover, and forgiveness becomes a personal struggle. The narrative is the fictionalized account of the profile of a real gang member Alarcón wrote in 2016, and within this collection the truth itself feels all the more plausible: an individual tragedy rendered translatable into too many other contexts, borne forward in an ongoing cycle.
In “Abraham Lincoln Has Been Shot,” perhaps one of Alarcón’s more inventive tales, time shifts aside to permit a young man currently struggling with the loss of his job and on the brink of a breakup to grapple with the sudden death of his former lover, Abraham Lincoln. The nationwide devastation is rendered intimate and introspective, the magnitude of Lincoln’s presence and murder at the end of the Civil War transmuted into the loss of a long-since-ended taboo love affair; in Alarcón’s hands, it resonates as profoundly innovative and tender.
And in the title story, Alarcón explores migration and identity through the eyes of a young man who finds himself participating in a small corner of his political system. The wry meaning of the title reverberates throughout the collection as it explores familiar and unfamiliar narratives through fresh perspectives.
Some of Alarcón’s stories have the brevity and clarity of prose poems, others sprawl across nations and desires. Within each, he demonstrates his understanding of psyche, purpose and the pervasive purposelessness of why we might harm each other. Overall, I did wish he allowed women to have a voice in the universe of his stories. He writes about women with compassion, but often with distance, never truly making room to explore their lived experiences. Instead, women in his stories are relegated to the exhausted role of fulfilling a narrative need for male protagonists: he needs to avenge her, he needs to be responsible for her, he needs to protect her, or he needs her to make himself “feel like a man.” I did become disappointed that Alarcón did not turn his expert eye towards female characters, and allowed them to become, on the whole, secondary to his male protagonists. This singular criticism will stick with me.
However, I came away from the book feeling that each of these stories is vicious and exquisite, and they form a stellar collection.
Reviewed by Maya Gittelman