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Note:  Legna Rodriguez Iglesias is a WINNER of international prizes for her poetry, her plays, and her short stories.

“To write a book whose leitmotif is the bond, affectionate or grotesque, with a pet, in this case a dog, is not a thing she was the first to come up with.  Literary history is full of similar examples.  Even Anton Chekhov, a man of theater, wrote about a dog, and I’m referring to a very serious story published for children called “Whitebrow.”  – Comment by one of the author’s mentors.

cover favorite girlfriend french bulldog

Cuban author Legna Rodríguez Iglesias, a poet, fiction writer, and playwright, challenges the reader of this experimental novel by telling her story in fifteen seemingly stand-alone episodes, narrated by an unusual assortment of people.  My Favorite Girlfriend was a French Bulldog  also comes with its own style, set of themes, and characters, which do not match what I’ve come to expect from international fiction in translation.  Though most of these early stories are fairly straightforward, the atmosphere feels different – a bit “off” – even unique – among all other story collections I have ever read.  Some of this is related to the circumstances in which the characters find themselves.  These include a young woman who wants a visa but is dressed improperly for her ministry appointment, a woman virulently at odds with her mother, a forty-year-old family man who pretends to himself that he excels in a totally different kind of life, and a traveler to Miami who meets friends, gets a tattoo, and experiences new love.

Mt. Sinai

Mt. Sinai

The characters begin to seem more and more offbeat when they include a person who befriends an android who will edit a text, someone whose father has turned into a tree, an elderly grandfather speaking from the dead, and a woman invited to a world poetry festival, where she is the only person wearing a series of masks.  In principle, she believes that masks are political positions, logical reactions, and an attitude toward life, always hiding the person beneath it.  Many, if not most, characters are planning a journey into the future and into a new life, in part because “The worst part of being no one is not exactly as logic would have it – assuming it is logical to be someone – being no one, but rather knowing, and on top of that accepting, that you are no one here and now.  The phenomenon happens all the time, in any society and in any system.”

Black Prince flower.

Black Prince flower.

A Cuban by birth, the author sets many of these stories in Cuba, but she leaves Cuba for Miami in one story, and in another, “Sinai,” the main character is talking to God at Mt. Sinai, or her interpretation of it.  This character is begging God to take her brother far away and out of her life.  She is deaf at the beginning of this story, and becomes blind as it develops, then mute, as God gives her the answer she may deserve.  She doesn’t “get it,” however.  “I still wonder what I said wrong, Lord,” she replies.  Some stories are so universal in setting and ideas that location is relatively unimportant.  In “Wanda,” a story written as a poem, the darkest of dark ironies prevail. A young married couple, childhood sweethearts, have been together for twenty years and have two children.  Then the husband changes emotionally, and his wife wants him to leave.  When he comes to her door two months later, the result is a bloody massacre, resulting with both the wife and husband dead.  The family insists on having a joint wake, however, and their children are insistent that there be no flowers, especially “black princes.”  “Kids are like that,” the narrator explains.

French Buildog

French Bulldog

The “elephant in the room” here, is actually a French bulldog, which, despite the title, plays a surprisingly small role for most of the book.  Several of the short poems which introduce the stories at the beginning of the collection, refer to the French bulldog very briefly.  The reader “saves” this information as the succeeding stories evolve.  The first such poem, which acts as the epigraph, reads “My favorite girlfriend was/ a French bulldog. / When I scolded her,/ she peed herself.”  The next, a practical note, is “A French bulldog/ and a telephone/ cost the same,/ and both can provide you with/ the affection/ you lack.”  But French bulldogs can also be fussy:  “On preferring/ the cheese croissant,/ my French bulldog/ demonstrates to me,/ in the first place,/ that he has very good taste,/ and in the second,/ that he will be very hard/ to please.”  At this point, about a third of the way through the book, the introductory poems and the narratives stop referring to the French bulldog, and as readers approach the end of the book, they may question why the French bulldog is part of the significant title, when it plays such a small role overall.  Then, suddenly, it all makes sense.  The French bulldog becomes a narrator and sets the characters and their lives into perspective.

Legna Rodriguez Ignesias

Author Legna Rodriguez Iglesias

Legna Rodriguez Iglesias is a challenging writer for those who are accustomed to clear  beginnings, middles, and ends to their books and stories, and her characters are sometimes so offbeat that predicting where she may be going with them is not possible. Her dark humor and sense of irony make these stories more human, however, and her themes of isolation, the search for love, the need to feel safe, the urge for independence, and the complexities of family are universal.  Readers looking for literary adventure will find that this collection of stories will take them in new and fascinating directions down pathways they may never have explored.  If you decide to take that route, just do not forget to take your French bulldog with you.  You may need him.

Photos. Mount Sinai, where one character talks with God.  https://en.wikipedia.org

The Black Prince flower, a variety of hollyhock.  https://www.amazon.com

A French Bulldog.  https://www.alamy.com

The author’s photo: https://www.bloodaxebooks.com

REVIEW. PHOTOS. Cuba, Experimental, Literary, Short Stories
Written by: Legna Rodriguez Iglesias
Published by: McSweeney's
Date Published: 07/14/2020
ISBN: 978-1944211776
Available in: Ebook Hardcover

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