by Adriana Erin Rivera
Written as a part of our Tiny Review Series
A dash of Nuyorican attitude, a sprinkle of sophisticated syntax, and a good helping of revenge. In the short fiction collection Noiryorican, author Richie Narvaez takes ownership of the noir genre, placing Latinx characters at the spotlight of every story.
Narvaez sets the reader in a different location in each story and immediately makes the reader feel as if they know the central character—whether we would want to know them or not. Somehow, he finds a way to give these robbers, cannibals, murderers, and city grifters endearing qualities with back-stories that almost defend their criminal motives. Almost.
From the start in “Good Fences” or “Merry Xmas from Orchard Beach,” Narvaez’s mastery of setting transports the imagination to very different locations in New York. In “Good Fences,” you can sincerely relate to the Brooklyn-based protagonist’s irritation with his neighbor’s incessantly barking dogs as if you live next to that nightmare. In “Merry Xmas from Orchard Beach,” you see the broken glass and shells that litter the Bronx locale and the various cultural communities as well as seedy characters that frequent the beach. Narvaez makes it clear these boroughs are vastly different—their individual DNA and unique identities stand out, a challenging feat.
Noiryorican doesn’t revolve around New York. In “Pale Yellow Sun,” the reader travels to Puerto Rico to become a fly on the proverbial wall within this twisted mother-daughter who-done-it story with surprises around every turn. Clever narrative choices take the reader off the obvious trail.
“Old Pendejo” explores two brothers’ deadly encounter in Texas and features what he calls “Mexiricans”—those individuals with both Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage. Narvaez’s narrative takes on the differences and similarities of these cultures with subtle descriptions of how the brothers’ mother from a beach town in Puerto Rico fell in love with the dusty Mexican land “where skies go on blue forever.”
The author’s signature character “Roachkiller,” who was featured in a previously published anthology, returns to this collection in a new heist adventure that shines a light on the impact of family within the lives of Latinx individuals.
We also meet a vengeful tax evader with murderous tendencies in “Withhold the Dawn,” but the plot is not so cut and dry—pun intended. The author’s strength for leading the reader in one direction and suddenly shifting to an imaginative ending makes each story a true thriller in its own right.
With skillfully paced action built into each story, Noiryorican feels as vivid as watching scenes from a black and white thriller film—only with each page turn, more color is introduced. Narvaez manages to balance the mysterious moments with neatly-placed and disturbed humor.
I appreciate authors who feature Latinx protagonists in their work. Narvaez’s penchant for placing Latinx characters at the center of his works piqued my interest. As one whose reading lists don’t typically include much crime fiction, I may be turning to the dark side.
Adriana Erin Rivera is a New York-based author of the coming-of-age novel Swing Sets (Create Space Publishing, 2014). Follow her on Twitter: @AdrianaErin or visit her website at http://adrianaerinrivera.com
200 pages | $14.95 (paperback)