BY THE VILLAGE SUN | A work of fiction that reads like a memoir, “Urban Folk Tales: Stories,” by Y. Rodriguez, celebrates ordinary individuals living extraordinary lives in New York City. Mixed with magical and spiritual realism, each story is rich in content, yet told in an informal style that reminds readers of the ancient folklore tradition. Taking its cue from Gabriel Garcia Marquez and “The Brothers Karamazov,” “Urban Folk Tales” provides an escape from reality without sacrificing truthfulness or relevance in today’s cultural consciousness.
As a world-builder, Y. Rodriguez has a passion for storytelling and an appreciation for life’s complexities and nuances. As she tells readers in her author’s note: “All of the stories in my book ‘Urban Folk Tales’ are based upon many of these encounters, some of which were so extraordinarily unbelievable that I had to use the fictitious components of magical and spiritual realism to understand and explain them.” While each story offers its own New York City microcosm, the overall thematic content reminds us that some moments in life — and all of its struggles — are universal.
In “Laura and the Kickboxer,” a chance encounter on the N train changes the destiny of two people lucky enough to find each other. Laura and David long to be seen by the rest of the world and make small talk on the N train filled with second chances only found in New York. In later stories, reality dissolves into scenes of magical realism as we travel to the most sacred of all spaces, the neighborhood nail salon, in “The Manicurist.” Inez struggles with her clairvoyance as both a dangerous secret and an opportunity to help others. When a neighborhood tragedy severs the bonds of safety and community, Inez’s past reappears to complicate her present secret. In “The Man Who Dreamed Too Much,” the main character loses himself to his subconscious desires, leading to a battle between good and evil. Heartbroken Eddie prefers his dream world to his waking world, but doesn’t quite understand the sacrifice it entails.
As in the best fiction, there is an illustrative juxtaposition between joy and pain, desperation and faith, life and violence. Every character must participate in the nuances of tragedy, love and survival via the miraculous and the mundane scenes that play up and down the avenues of New York City. For example, “The Manicurist,” while including the fantastical, is rooted in realism through its historical and social tragedies.
As Rodriguez explains, “Inez’s story is told both in the present day and with the use of flashbacks about her life in El Salvador, where her family faced political and religious persecution at the hands of an American-backed oligarchy during the 12-year war that sanctioned oppressive, sociopolitical institutions, such as the Catholic Church, as manifested in the story by the cruel Father Everett.”
The neighborhood tragedy at a nightclub, another premonition that Inez struggles to prevent from happening, is a historical reference to the Happy Land Fire, which killed 87 Hispanics. The fictional lives — and the real ones they are meant to honor — are safe and protected in Y. Rodriguez’s capable hands.
In a world filled with too much content and little substance, “Urban Folk Tales: Stories” is fiction for a better world. Its mission is to create memorable tales that inspire empathy for all people, especially those with few voices in mainstream media. Like all folklore, these stories are meant to be heard until they become part of the strata that is New York City.
Y. Rodriguez was born in Manhattan to Puerto Rican parents and has lived on the Lower East Side and other New York City neighborhoods. She is a published, produced and award-winning playwright and director who has had her plays produced in Off Broadway theater companies, such as Theater for the New City, The Public Theater and La MaMa. Rodriguez is also a published poet and a professional musician and songwriter who performs with her band, AYOKA, in venues throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn.
“Urban Folk Tales: Stories,” by Y. Rodriguez (Read Furiously, April 2023), 218 pages, paperback, $17.99. For more information, the first five pages of “Laura and the Kickboxer” and to order, click here.
Sounds like an interesting read!