96th Discussion: Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s Everything Begins & Ends at the Kentucky Club

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Attendees: Raj, Rachel, Maya, Asy, Vicky, Scott, Pierre, Timmy

Keeping in theme with the book, we had Mexican food to munch on as we animatedly discussed about the book. Even though all of us liked it, there were still plenty of things that we were not happy about it: how the stories felt too abrupt and lacked details and descriptions; how there was too much focus on gay men and gay stories; how dated and unrealistic the book read overall. Rachel felt that Sáenz could have at least provided translations for the Spanish dialogue in the form of footnotes, while Scott summarised the book as a “romantic tragedy”.

51n5-gyubblAnother issue that all of us unanimously agreed on was how the Kentucky Club, despite being mentioned in the title, hardly made any impact. Asy felt as if the bar was shoehorned into the stories, while Scott deduced that the Kentucky Club was just a poor device to link all seven shorts together. “The title is very misleading!” Raj exclaimed.

1. “He Has Gone to be with the Women”
Raj’s favourite; because of this story, he had high expectations for the rest of the book (oh dear). Timmy liked it too, adding that Sáenz picked a strong story to kick off the book. (This was the first story that he worked on and it was critically acclaimed.) Asy noted the story flowed well because of its conversational style, although they raised an eyebrow on Juan Carlos’ newspaper reading habit (hashtag fake news). Vicky initially found the title problematic, but eventually changed her mind. Scott liked Javier the lover and was sad when he got killed off, though it was an impactful death, according to Vicky.

2. “The Art of Translation”
Asy’s and Vicky’s favourite: she found the writing poetic, while they thought that the story described trauma perfectly well. Raj had hoped that there were more details about the scars, though Vicky countered that the lack of description made it all the more powerful. All of us liked that there was positive depiction of Mexicans in this story.

3. “The Rulemaker”
Timmy’s favourite; he liked that Max was a self-sufficient smart boy who, in spite of everything that has happened to and around him, did not end up a screw-up. Scott concurred, adding that Max was realistically portrayed. Vicky noted that unlike the other stories, where women were typically the caregivers, this story depicted the father being the one raising Max up. Pierre (naturally) liked that, calling him “sexy” and “muscular”. We concluded that the mother was a sex worker who may have found a sugar daddy and thus her sudden decision to ship Max to his father.

4. “Brother in Another Language”
Asy did not get the point of this story, while Timmy didn’t like it because it was “too angry”. Pierre was unsure whether Charlie hated his father or not. We questioned the father’s (lack of) love for his sons; Timmy connected the birds analogy during Charlie’s first therapy session with how the parents treated him and his (dead) brother Antonio. We also reflected on a particular dialogue – “Kindness has nothing to do with love” – agreeing that both are not mutually exclusive. The inclusion of the Kentucky Club in this story left us confused; it felt more like a glorified cameo.

5. “Sometimes the Rain”
Vicky said the opening was akin to describing an anxiety attack. Asy felt the story was contrived; Scott opined that the story ripped off Brokeback Mountain. Questions were raised about bisexuality being a focal point of this story, and whether it was done genuinely or merely to appeal to a wider audience. Timmy liked the character Rosie, a strong, independent teenage girl who knew what she wanted and what she needed to do to attain them.

6. “Chasing the Dragon”
Rachel’s and Scott’s favourite; the latter felt that familial relationships were portrayed really well in this short. We wondered about Uncle Hector’s sexuality: rich unmarried older man, clearly a homosexual. Both Raj and Vicky adored Carmen, unlike Asy, who found her irresponsible. Timmy found Conrad hot and “would not mind sleeping with him”; Scott commented that he was only into “shagging hot guys”. We noted the similarities between the siblings and their parents, and how the siblings came across more like twins. Vicky elucidated that the entire story was not just about addiction, but also about seeking pleasures and taking risks.

7. “The Hurting Game”
By this time, we were already fatigued and it clearly showed through our disdain for this story: Vicky found it boring and forgettable; Asy did not like how it was written; Scott did not give a shit about its two-pronged ending. We were again confused as well as frustrated over the Kentucky Club’s depiction in this story, with Raj declaring the bar a sham when it was mentioned.

While we zealously discussed the book, we unfortunately did not manage to delve deeper into the various topics that were present throughout: race and racism, religion, the significance of reading and the arts, the poor-rich dichotomy, the overabundance of death, love, and abuse.

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Mark Lambie/Courtesy El Paso Times

By the end of the night, in spite of all that has been said, we still agreed that we liked the book, particularly Sáenz’s poetic writing and succinct storytelling as well as the emotive journey that one goes through when reading it. The book may not be revolutionary or modern, but it is an entertaining “romantic tragedy”.

Additional links:
WORDS ON A WIRE: Benjamin Alire Saenz
For Award-Winning Author, The Border Is More Than A Headline

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1 Comment

Filed under Americas, Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Bisexuality, Class, Family, Food, Gay, Love, Mexico, Politics, Queer, Race, Religion, Short Stories, USA, War

One response to “96th Discussion: Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s Everything Begins & Ends at the Kentucky Club

  1. AH, I wish I were there, and I would have defended the last story. Although my fav is “the rule maker,” the last story is actually the most literary of the lot and ties everything together, and shows the significance of the title, that the Kentucky Club isn’t just tangential.

    I like the book a lot in that Saenz, like Colm Toibin, is able to make stories out of stereotypes, and not present the characters as stereotypes. That said, Saenz also is like The Fairytales for Lost Children author in that every short story is about Saenz himself; he cannot imagine the lives of other people. Saenz needs to work on that.

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