From San Diego Union-Tribune (Oct. 1, 2006)
Not Always Good to Encounter
by Tiffany Lee-Youngren
The Commuters: A Novel of Intersections
City Works Press, 193 pages, $12.95
There's a new press in town, and one of the first works to roll hot off it is ... by a debut author from Los Angeles. I'd be more than happy to grumble about the shadow cast by our big sister to the north had Cheryl Klein not been so worthy of the gig (and the new City Works Press' Ben Reitman award). Besides, Klein writes about a topic near and dear to the hearts of (these days) even San Diegans: Traffic. Gridlock. Bumper-to-bumper mayhem.
Yet in Klein's collection of stories and poems (which would have been stronger without the poems), traffic and gridlock serve as metaphors for the viscera of city life – a throbbing, living network of energy and rhythm that her characters must learn to navigate, many of them alone.
Her characters are compelling, one and all. From the lonely foster children in “Amor Sin Leche” and “Like Wildfire” to the struggling dishwasher in “At the Altar of Domicilia,” Klein exposes the underbelly of city life, imbuing her stories with as much grit and sadness as she does hope and compassion. At her best, she succeeds at evoking the immigrant with such subtlety that perhaps we can finally come to understand that for some people, dreams are built on things as simple as geography.
“In South-Central,” says one character, “in our little house with seven people, jobs were places you trudged to, and bosses were people about whom you spoke sharp words under your breath, and work was repetitive. But, three buses away, the light was different and the people were different – walking incarnations of billboards. Maybe jobs would be different, too.”
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