Amanda Hale’s 2011 book of short stories, In the Embrace of the Alligator: Fictions from Cuba, is a gripping celebration of mystery unraveled using beautiful language. Hale launches in with a story called “First Steps, Last Steps;” immediately gripping, beginning in the middle. The subject of the story is introduced: “His legs were twisted, as though they’d been torqued and broken, his feet wrapped in burlap with cardboard soles and twine to hold them firm. I’d done the left one, Leila the right, our hands twisting and binding.” I wondered if I was about to read a story about kidnapping, abuse? Is “he” a child, an adult, an animal? I didn’t know, but I was getting to the end of the story to find out.
In the story “Witness,” I was astounded by Hale’s ability to achieve pathos. She describes a long wait, on a hot day: “She took the pen from him and patted his arm, then she signed, wanting only to get out of there and cross the street to her own home, to eat something, to rinse her mouth with cool water from the refrigerator, to get the bad taste of fear out of her mouth, to swallow it all because that was the only way.” The narrator observes that the town became “a warren of creatures running scared, disappearing into their burrows where they tunneled and lay low with their ears back and their teeth bared.” In sum, In the Embrace of the Alligator: Fictions from Cuba is not only a testament to Hale’s own fantastic writing skill, but also a page turner that thrills the readers mind.
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