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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Ron Sylvester: Real magic in ‘The Strange Beautiful’

Carla Crudijo  (Courtesy)
By Ron Sylvester For The Spokesman-Review

Anyone who’s ever fantasized about sex with Tinker Bell, but wasn’t sure how that would happen, Carla Crujido has you covered. But flings with flying sprites is only a start to the wild world of “The Strange and Beautiful” series of short stories and fiction writing debut for Crujido.

The collection of adult fairy tales provides a fascinating look into the wonder of human existence. Crujido ties the stories together through an actual place, Spokane’s Mount Vernon Apartments at 10th Avenue and Adams Street. The stories provide an if-walls-could-talk search into the past, traversing a century of residents. The tales are divided by apartments and are so divergent you never know who you will meet when you knock on a chapter door.

Reading these stories, you sometimes question whether the strange characters and unexpected magical happenings of “The Strange Beautiful” are the psychological dreams of the characters, their own fantasies of dealing with a complicated world or real experiences. Except there are witnesses.

A favorite was a Depression-era tale of a woman in a loveless, abusive marriage to a closeted gay man who befriends a talking bear. Is the bear real or a cartoonish coping mechanism? Well, the women’s daughter sees him, too, and the bear becomes a loving father figure and a secure protector.

But as with other close encounters with creatures of fantasy, there’s always a conflict with a world that lacks imagination.

While Crujido sprinkles her stories with magic, this shouldn’t be labeled only as fantasy. The stories contain the spirit of the fairy tale but deal with the real and complex emotions of being a grownup, including despair, loneliness and trying to reconcile the memories of a failed love.

In between the chapters are snippets which fill in the blanks of psychic spaces. These are wonderful, haunting epilogues that add strength to each chapter.

Crujido does this with a breezy writing style that goes deep on detail and really brings the characters to life, even those that purely spring from another world.

The imagination Crujido brings into these stories keeps them fresh and lively. Like any good fairy tale, these will keep you thinking long after you finish them.

You may even leave these pages believing the magic is real.