The King Is Always Above the People, delivers on every level, from the intricate to the inventive, from the subtle to the sublime ... it’s Alarcón’s first-person narrators that give the collection its velocity and vulnerability in the face of love, lust, fear and cruelty ... In dazzling prose, then, The King Is Always Above the People mulls weighty philosophical questions, but through intimate personal dramas that Alarcón deftly teases out to surprise endings, a David Lynch-style menace and surrealism brewing beneath the surface of everyday lives. There’s daring and defiance in these stories, a beauty that will make your soul soar, as Alarcón ascends steadily to the top tier of American writers.
Alarcón is an empathic observer of the isolated human, whether isolated by emigration or ambition, blindness or loneliness, poverty or war. His stories have a reporter's mix of kindness and detachment, and perhaps as a result, his endings land like a punch in the gut ... Alarcón is nearly always oblique. Even the title story has no one political point. There's a dead dictator, but the story isn't about his death, or about the dictatorship. It's about a man who wants, on a purely personal level, to be free. That's what the whole collection is about: people who want to be free. Alarcón writes about them with a grayscale beauty that few writers can achieve, or try to. His purpose isn't to approve or condemn, or to liberate. He's writing to show us other people's lives, and in every case, it's a pleasure to be shown.
This is, in short, a writer with range, one who is willing to take risks with form and is deeply curious about the world. Several of the stories in The King Is Always Above the People are stylistically daring...These stories are intriguing, but I found myself gravitating more to the longer, fuller stories that come later in the book ... Alarcón is at his finest when he couples narrative experimentation with deliberate pacing and imaginative empathy. In 'The Bridge,' a young man faces two daunting tasks: settle the estate of his uncle and break the news of the death to his father, who is currently held in a mental hospital. Reading this story is like walking down a hallway filled with mirrors — the young man and his father are both lawyers, the uncle and his wife are both interpreters, their house has just one pair of each utensil — so that I half-expected a turn to magical realism ... A recurring theme in The King Is Always Above the People is the need to explore how leaving home, and returning to it, changes you irremediably. Alarcón manages to offer a fresh look at migration, the oldest story of all.
...the world of Daniel Alarcón’s The King Is Always Above the People is one of lonely, disaffected men. Familial discord, particularly between fathers and sons, and a gloomy sense of rootlessness pervade the lives of these characters... Though the characters and their circumstances can feel elusive, this is perhaps fitting. The collection offers a portrait of men who cling to the illusion that, as one character hopes, 'one can start over in any number of places, right? Any number of times?' In Alarcón’s elegant prose, this assumption is interrogated to bracing effect.
In each of the 10 stories here, dark forces operate with spirit-sapping persistence: officials are corrupt, politicians are manipulative and crowds thrive on lurid spectacle ...
Alarcón is hardly the first writer to examine the crisis of masculinity, but he’s unusually alive to the ways that it is bound up with uncertainty about political and national identity. His recurrent concern with men drowning in ennui means that these stories lack tonal variety ... Yet at root this experiment in alternative reality is still about loss and malaise, and even when flirting with surrealism Alarcón maintains a deadpan style. It’s the detachment of a writer whose work suggests that there is no clear-cut frontier between reportage and fiction.
These stories — many set in an unnamed Latin American country resembling Alarcón’s native Peru, with a few unfolding in the United States where he’s lived most of his life — are filled with young men who’ve lost their innocence and their way. Many of them would be right at home in the 1930s world of John Steinbeck. Much like Nelson — the antihero whose decline and fall are chronicled in Alarcón’s spellbinding At Night We Walk in Circles — these lost souls often grow callous and cruel, in a country that one story’s narrator describes as 'stinking, violent, diseased.' They witness random and pointless fights, involving men who can’t find work and have nothing to do, in cities and towns that are falling apart and that time itself seems to have forgotten. Many of these locales have the sort of surrealistic, menacing air of a hellish provincial town in a Robert Bolaño novel.
Daniel Alarcón’s new collection, The King Is Always Above the People, begins with four top-notch stories...The sophisticated stylistic diversity of this entertaining and inspiring opening quartet is a delight. Yet as the ensuing stories unfurl, some wonderful, some so slight as to feel like filler, the collection begins to resolve into a set of repetitive themes ... If Alarcón explicitly thematizes migration, urbanization, the lives of those left behind and discarded, and the emotional byproducts of geographic and social mobility, a related but distinct theme eventually comes to dominate the book: men coping with the inadequacies of their lives ... Fiction about men is, of course, hardly notable, but Alarcón’s dispirited, frustrated, and endlessly seeking — even when they are successful — men stand out in particular against the flatness of his women. These muted barmaids, wives, mothers, and girlfriends function largely to thwart or succor their men, a banal dichotomy and frustrating misstep for a book with so many strengths ... These stories might be better read on their own than together; while Alarcon is a truly impressive writer, the sum here is less than the parts.
Dynamic novelist and journalist Alarcón delivers a collection of loosely affiliated short stories, each buzzing and alive with recurrent figures and neighborhoods, like the young man who ventures into the city from his small provincial town, the mourning extended family that surfaces at a wake, and the busy denizens of sprawling urban slums introduced in the first story, 'The Thousands' ... Alarcón’s gift for generating real, tangible characters propels readers through his recognizable yet half-real worlds.
Daniel Alarcón returns to that theme throughout his new collection of stories, The King Is Always Above the People. Alarcón’s characters deal with questions of identity, most notably: How do people see you, and how do you see yourself? And what is your place in a world in which you don’t feel you belong? ...Alarcón never explicitly identifies the Latin American countries in which these pieces are clearly set. These absences may seem affected, but they underscore his thesis: that people constantly assess their personalities, and the challenge of doing so affects everyone and happens everywhere ... A couple of stories misfire, but the majority brilliantly evoke their characters’ feelings of displacement. And Alarcón’s poetic prose gives his work a dreamlike quality... The strongest bridges of all, Alarcón suggests in this haunting book, are cherished memories and the places that evoke them.
Although the themes that emerge in his earlier work—blindness, the provinces versus the capital, the pervasive, double-edged power of actors and acting—are everywhere in The King Is Always Above the People, there is stronger fabulist tendency on display in this ten-story collection ... While Alarcon’s new short fiction has the same preoccupations as his previous work, the realism that lent the first stories their verisimilitude and texture seems to be on the wane ...has its compensatory gains in the broader resonance of fable. It’s tempting to say, especially of so precocious a writer, that it’s an instance of a late style arriving early.
Award-winning writer Alarcón returns with a new short story collection that features a wide range of memorable characters. The King Is Always Above the People examines immigration, Latin American families, Los Angeles, and much more.
A clutch of well-turned stories filled with characters concerned with the limits of their personalities ... A smart and understated collection that puts some new twists on old-fashioned identity crises.
...a superb collection ... Throughout the collection, Alarcón writes with a spellbinding voice and creates a striking cast of characters. Each narrative lands masterfully and memorably, showcasing Alarcón’s immense talent.