Book Review: Last Night I Sang to the Monster – Benjamin Alire Sáenz

MonsterPublished September 1st 2009
Format: Novel
Genre: Fiction /Family/Contemporary/YA
Length: 250 pages, ebook
Publisher: Cinco Puntos Press
Cover Artist: Antonio Castro H.
Ebook ISBN: 1933693797
Characters: Zach Gonzalez

Eighteen-year-old Zach does not remember why he’s in a rehabilitation center for alcoholics. Still, with therapy and group sessions, he soon finds out that he’s capable of dealing with his past and working on his recovery.

I decided to pick this up when I found out that the author is working on the sequel of his multi-awarded novel Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. I just wanted to get a feel again of how this author lured me the way he did with Ari and Dante’s story, and this one gave me those feelings again! And this came out three years before Ari and Dante]

What an incredible novel! The quality of his writing is impeccable. His characterization is rich, and the realism behind each character masked through his beautiful prose is fucking genius! Seriously, I cannot even begin to tell you how much I laughed with Zach, cried with him, and all those crazy mixed-up emotions that it felt like I was living his life.
I believe this story. I devoured everything in it, although Zach may have excessively used a few expressions–I thought these were part of his personality where he could not fully articulate himself, mainly depending on his private conversations with himself.

While reading it, I was Zach in the story – not that I’m an alcoholic, an addict, or something, but there’s something about his character that resonates with me. The ‘lost me,’ the ‘little boy’ me that may have been looking for some happiness. I dunno, it’s almost depressing to think about those times while I’m writing this review, but yeah, I guess the book is depressing but not in an “I will wallow in this shit and cry myself to sleep” kind of way. I guess what I’m trying to say is that you have a choice to read this book and get all weepy about it or read this, wallow in it but expect that there’s some happy ending waiting for you. I liked that in this book. It’s dark in a way that it shows the reality of people suffering from addiction. There was no sugarcoating the fact that it’s not just about destroying themselves. Still, it’s also about destroying everything around them, but most importantly – something I’ve gathered from experience that it’s actually a cry for help.

Last Night I Sang to the Monster is evocative prose of a novel that will leave you enthralled with Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s artistry! What a genuinely delightful masterpiece!

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars


About The Author
Benjamin Alire Sáenz (born 16 August 1954) is an award-winning American poet, novelist and writer of children’s books.

He was born at Old Picacho, New Mexico, the fourth of seven children, and was raised on a small farm near Mesilla, New Mexico. He graduated from Las Cruces High School in 1972. That fall, he entered St. Thomas Seminary in Denver, Colorado where he received a B.A. degree in Humanities and Philosophy in 1977. He studied Theology at the University of Louvain in Leuven, Belgium from 1977 to 1981. He was a priest for a few years in El Paso, Texas before leaving the order.

In 1985, he returned to school, and studied English and Creative Writing at the University of Texas at El Paso where he earned an M.A. degree in Creative Writing. He then spent a year at the University of Iowa as a PhD student in American Literature. A year later, he was awarded a Wallace E. Stegner fellowship. While at Stanford University under the guidance of Denise Levertov, he completed his first book of poems, Calendar of Dust, which won an American Book Award in 1992. He entered the Ph.D. program at Stanford and continued his studies for two more years. Before completing his Ph.D., he moved back to the border and began teaching at the University of Texas at El Paso in the bilingual MFA program.

His first novel, Carry Me Like Water was a saga that brought together the Victorian novel and the Latin American tradition of magic realism and received much critical attention.

In The Book of What Remains (Copper Canyon Press, 2010), his fifth book of poems, he writes to the core truth of life’s ever-shifting memories. Set along the Mexican border, the contrast between the desert’s austere beauty and the brutality of border politics mirrors humanity’s capacity for both generosity and cruelty.

In 2005, he curated a show of photographs by Julian Cardona.

He continues to teach in the Creative Writing Department at the University of Texas at El Paso.

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