John Hopkins University Press, 2019. 173 pages.

Reviewed by Rebecca Bernard

Claire Jimenez’s debut collection, Staten Island Stories, skillfully balances the global with the local, the particularity of place, alongside the universally human. These are stories rooted in the space and politics of New York’s sometimes less-considered borough, but they are also socially-minded tales of human suffering and human joy, united by an uncanny realism and a persistent ability to tap into the most basic and honest human desires. Jimenez presents a hopeful narrative, not in any kind of naïve or wistful way, but a hope grounded in the firmly rational terrain of human endeavor. Loosely based on The Canterbury Tales, Jimenez’s roughly linked stories follow a diverse array of individuals from the opening story’s, “angry adjunct,” to the heart-sick teenager working the Halloween/gift shop to the addled single-mother who works at the DMV and takes care of her ailing mother in the collection’s final story. These are voice-driven stories; all but one are told in the first-person point of view.  Though Jimenez’s characteristic wit and directness come through in each piece, the voices themselves remain unique—original and distinct to the human beings whose difficulties they embody.

In trying to articulate what sets these stories apart, I find myself marveling at the way in which Jimenez’s characters operate within the ‘real’ world—our world—with its police brutality, its classism, socioeconomic insecurity, racism and addiction. Yet the stories never feel didactic; instead, these concerns feel embedded within the fabric of these characters’ lives, just as they’re embedded in our own. These characters are aware of the inequality inherent in this country, but even when they lack power, as they so often do, they refuse to be complacent, instead fighting with whatever means possible, be it humor, self-awareness or simply a refusal to accept the status quo. We see this epitomized with Luis, from “The Grant Writer’s Tale,” a young man enraged by the state’s decision