A collection of stories about immigration, broken dreams, Los Angeles gang members, Latin American families, and other tales of high stakes journeys, from the author of War by Candlelight and At Night We Walk in Circles.
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.