The cover of Fernando A. Flores' short story collection, Valleyesque: Stories by Fernando A. Flores

MCD x FSG Originals. 2022. 210 pages.

Reviewed by Colleen Mayo

Two lines from Fernando A. Flores’ 2022 short story collection Valleyesque zapped me and left my brain ringing for days:

“…perhaps living in a society where realism is the reigning literary form renders that society powerless against its own absurdity. Strange stories had helped me give meaning to painful moments of survival, and strange stories were the only things I could continue feeding into the machine.”

These lines come from the collection’s sixth story “Nostradamus Baby”. The protagonist is a successful novelist who makes extra money by meeting with amateur writers to talk about their terrible book ideas. When he’s not listening to retired, casually racist babyboomers discuss their spy thrillers, his wife Denorah and he worry about paying rent, try not to think about children locked in cages at the Texas-Mexico border, and do their best to cultivate a life of happiness by ceremoniously constructing a baby out of their own earwax. Told through a crystalline voice, “Nostradamus Baby” positions a bounty of absurdities next to each other so that, by the story’s end, crafting an earwax child feels almost normal.

“Nostradamus Baby” is one of the more straight-walking pieces in Flores’ 14-story collection, which otherwise twists and slips and collides across a wormhole landscape of muralists trapped inside their own creations, possums taking over governments before writing tell-all bestsellers, and feather-faced angels who vomit iridescent pools of trash into alleyways. The whole collection rides you, windows down and hair flying, into new dimensions. And though Flores’s psychedelic prose—imagistic, keenly threaded with Tejano references and iconography—had me at first drawing connections to famous Chicanx lawyer and writer Oscar Zeta Acosta’s 1972 book The Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo, Flores’ style is way less macho than Acosta’s. Flores is also, both in his premises and on the line-level, wonderfully mischievous. Like Jorge Luis Borges’ iconic, genre-busting 1962 collection Ficciones, Valleyesque is down to get just as silly as it does political, intellectual, or overcome by existential dread.

In “Nocturne from a World Concave”, Frédéric Chopin (yes, the 19th Century Polish composer and pianist) wakes up in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico after playing a gig across the border in the US the night before. Chopin, who is also grieving his recently dead mother, remembers that the Mexican government confiscated his piano and embarks on a gonzo mission to reclaim it. The following scene occurs after he finds the piano:

“Chopin didn’t notice, but he had started playing its k