Sabrina & Corina: A Review of Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s Fiction Debut

by Soek Fambul

Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s debut short story collection Sabrina & Corina will haunt you. Firmly rooted in memories of home, Sabrina & Corina centers the lives of indigenous Latina women and girls residing in the ever-changing city of Denver. The soul of Denver, in all its gentrifying permutations, is personified throughout the collection, thematically linking the majority of the eleven stories. In Sabrina & Corina, readers feel a resistance against the erasure of the Denver many of Fajardo-Anstine’s characters call home—a city deeply tied to the collection’s momentum.

Sabrina & Corina by Kali Fajardo-Anstine. Random House, 2019. 219 pp. $26.00

In the story “Galapago,” the narrator reminds us that the neighborhood character Pearla has resided in for over sixty years has been renamed the Northside by “newcomers…[as] they’d changed the neighborhood names to fit their needs, to sound less dangerous, maybe less territorial” (109). Here is the ghosting presence that unifies Sabrina & Corina, a collection that refuses to forfeit its rightful claim to home and protecting one’s own story. 

Can home be an unwelcoming place? No easy answers can be found in Fajardo-Anstine’s work, yet as each short story progresses, these delicate and complicated truths appear in unstable relationships, lost loved ones, and self-denial. Narrowing in on discomfort, the characters of Sabrina & Corrina must reflect deeply on their behaviors and the lives of those nearest to them. In a few short pages, we come away with understanding for Fajardo-Anstine’s characters and their actions, though we may not always agree with them. And, it is through this complicated feeling that we recognize the narrative power of their agency. This power suggests itself in the collection’s title: Sabrina & Corina

Fajardo-Anstine’s world primarily concerns itself with the nuances of female relationships and seeks not to appease the reader with comfortable fictions. Fajardo-Anstine leans into life’s contradictions, heartbreaks, and the hard realities in her character’s lives. Though at times, her stories’ naturalistic tendencies give way to fatalism.

After surviving a violent attack, one character plainly asserts, “I’m not ashamed…No one sees me anyway…People pretend they don’t see a girl with a bruised face” (125). In Sabrina & Corina, we become the people forced to see. Sabrina & Corina strips away the delicate barrier between public and private, placing you into the lives of characters that will unsettle you. And, perhaps, that is the truth in Fajardo-Anstine’s short fiction:  that what is most necessary is often what is most difficult. And that these truths, these stories, will follow you long after you finish reading them. Is that not the goal of fiction? Sabrina & Corina gives language to love’s absences—those who have left and will return to you—those who will never come back. These eleven stories flourish in those vulnerable spaces between loss and return. Fajardo-Anstine’s stories keep those haunting memories alive.