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The Forbidden Stories of Marta Veneranda 

by Sonia Rivera-Valds, (Seven Stories Press, 158 pp., $21.95)

As a lover of gay/lesbian literature, Chicana literature and scandal, I am perhaps the perfect reader for The Forbidden Stories of Marta Veneranda. The book's premise is that Marta, a graduate student working on her thesis, has collected "forbidden" stories from various individuals within her Cuban, New York community. Since we often guard our sexual encounters as "forbidden," all of the nine stories within Sonia Rivera-Valdés' 158-page book share not only a commonality of characters, but an air of the erotic.

The book opens with a story called "Five Windows On The Same Side." In this narrative you meet the unhappily married Mayté Perdomo. When Mayté's husband goes to Chicago on a business trip, her second cousin, Laura, comes to visit from Cuba. Mayté is liberated by the affair that occurs between them, and chooses not to move to Chicago with her husband. (She's also mentioned, in a later story, by a different female lover.)

In "The Scent of Wild Desire," Mayté's neighbor, Rodolfo, finds himself in an interesting situation when his 400-pound, scantily clad neighbor accidentally locks herself out of her apartment. When Rodolfo invites this woman into his home while she awaits a locksmith, he is overcome with incredible nausea from the odor she emits. Suddenly, he finds himself excited by the smell--almost obsessed with it--and before you can turn the page, the two are entwined on the living room sofa.

The narratives in The Forbidden Stories are shocking, revealing and at times repulsive--but entertaining to read. Rivera-Valdés has written an intelligent, thought-provoking web of tales that explores various cultural and sexual dynamics through characters you come to know intimately by the book's close.

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