I've compared Rafael Alvarez's nonfiction to that of Joseph Mitchell, the legendary New Yorker writer. Like Mitchell, Alvarez goes deep, and, at some point, all the details and digressions transcend mere geography to get at something vital and soulful. Alvarez's fiction has a similar effect, tapping into the extraordinary lives of ordinary people, over the course of generations, in the land of pleasant (and not-so-pleasant) living.
You can entertain the inevitable Faulkner or Dickens comparisons if you like, but I'd suggest simply heading down to Germano's tomorrow night to hear the man read from his latest story collection, Tales from the Holy Land. The "holy land" referenced in the title is, of course, Baltimore, which is the main character in Alvarez's body of work. In what's being billed as a "cabaret reading," he'll be accompanied by Michael Joseph Harris on guitar. Luis Del Rio opens, and his "A Penny for Poe" tango figures to be a highlight of the evening. Music starts at 7:30 pm, and tickets are $10.