Brenda Peynado wastes no time in yanking her reader into her stories – and into the burning issues that consume her. Her debut collection, The Rock Eaters, demonstrate this superbly. Thoughts and Prayers and The Radioactives are the two tales that bookend The Rock Eaters, and they kick off and conclude the collection with punchy yet lingering impact ... As a member of the rare category of writer whose work wins an O. Henry Award as well as appearing in The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy anthology, Peynado flaunts breathtaking literary agility ... Horror creeps into The Rock Eaters with subtlety, but when it does, it's devastating ... Throughout The Rock Eaters, Peynado conjures both the playful sorcery of Kelly Link and the haunted atmosphere of Kali Fajardo-Anstine. But in her search for meaning in the immigrant experience — and the borderlands of emotion, possibility, and belonging — she populates a dimension all her own.
... reaches below a dazzling surface of weirdness to illuminate subterranean emotions and circumstances from the real world that are rarely afforded precise language ... These stories sparkle with craft from first sentence to last line, careening through genres with prose that’s unexpected and satisfying ... Other fabulist stories are similarly incanted in a first-person plural perspective that builds not only worlds, but also political vibrancy ... Stories that lend themselves to layered interpretations are still shot through with mystery that eludes definition. Startling premises drive toward a nutty absurdity reminiscent of Nikolai Gogol, Kelly Link and perhaps George Saunders, which only enhances their emotional charge...However, there are also realistic stories and stories that resist purpose-built mechanics of extended metaphors. They’re dreamier and less cerebral, gaining emotional resonance with every turn ... Each of Peynado’s stories is finely formed as a diamond, grounded in unpredictable yet telling details. While they previously found individual homes in major literary magazines and received awards, they are spectacularly orchestrated here to form a coherent whole. Wily but throbbing with heart, they dart into unexpected crevices of human experience you may not have known you wanted to see ... They speak to our unkempt, scarred world, even as they reimagine it not just once, but repeatedly.
The majority traffic in science fiction, fantasy, fabulism, or the surreal, even as they retain an edge of cutting satire or searing insight ... For all their genre-bending brilliance, Peynado’s shape-shifting stories prove most striking when they deal in the uncanny, that gray zone between the recognizable and the repulsive ... produces a world that feels almost more real than our own, as if reality’s excesses have spilled over onto the page ... It’s this magic, the ability to lead her readers into worlds that are structured very much like our own, yet still deliver surprising punches, that sets Peynado’s debut apart. This is true of her use of speculative storytelling elements, as well as her incorporation of issues of ethnicity, class, and nationality. In every instance, it’s essential that her characters are Dominican or Mexican or white. The characters’ migratory decisions, and histories, and outcomes are crucial to the telling. The fantastic and the surreal are never incidental to the stories’ worlds; they always accentuate what’s already there. In this, Peynado’s harnessing of the diasporic imagination establishes her as a true magician of the marvelous real.