An uncharitable reaction to the title of Eric Gamalinda’s collection of short stories would be a heavily rhetorical “are they?” As well as being the title to a song by The Doors, it’s hardly an earth-shattering revelation. It is, perhaps, a little unfair to judge a book by its title, but it’s an integral part of the book, and the first or second thing any reader is going to notice: this one does the collection no favours.
The strongest story in the collection “Famous Literary Frauds” retells the Cyrano de Bergerac story for the Oprah Winfrey age. The ugly, but eloquent wordsmith is a creative writing professor who believes he can’t get published because of his age and appearance; his mouthpiece is a talentless, but beautiful student: “beautiful people cannot write good poetry” the professor tells us. Bryan, his student, says he wants “to be as technically agile as Cyrano de Bergerac,” a knowing nod, in case we think that this is just an unoriginal plot. Writing about writers can be a dangerous indulgence; and writing about writing teachers even more so; knowing references to the origins of a story are more dangerous still. “Famous Literary Frauds” adopts a high-risk strategy that pays off. The characters are engaging, the plot features enough twists on the original to keep the reader interested, and the broader theme–literary originality and our cultural obsession with youth–while not especially new, is still a fruitful area.