Apartments of Calle Feliz

est em – JManga – 2012 – 1 volume

While I am a big fan of many BL artists at this point, est em is one of only a couple that has my finger hovering over the “buy” button as soon as I catch wind of anything in English. I adore everything I’ve read by her, and I’m a little surprised it never occurred to me to import her books. I think I will do that right now. But for the time being, JManga has heard my earnest thoughts and translated two of her books, Apartments of Calle Feliz, and Working Kentaros. I want to read the latter like nobody’s business, and will do so tomorrow when it’s posted. I’m also keeping my eye out for two of her other books from the Digital Manga Guild, Ultras and Kinein.

Anyway! Apartments of Calle Feliz went up last week on JManga, and you can check it out here. Basically, it’s a collection of short stories spotlighting the residents of the titular Calle Feliz. Shockingly, they are all gay men.

There is a framing device, in that newest resident Luca moves in and decides to write a novel about the residents of the building. Presumably, each story is a chapter in his novel. They are all really great, and very realistic love stories between adult men. That’s really what I love best about est em. She’s quite good at depicting the every day and making it extraordinary when it comes to relationships. Somehow, she even manages to capture the “everyday” of bullfighters and rock stars in other books. But she does it, and it is fantastic.

My favorite story in this collection, hands down, was the one that focused on Salvador, an artist, and Dino, a fashion designer. With no comment whatsoever, the story begins with Salvador paying the rent stark naked. On the next page, Salvador and Dino sit down to a breakfast, Salvador is again completely naked. This fact is not commented on, and the two have normal conversations as if nothing is strange. But the nudity creeps in subtly. At one point, Dino asks if Salvador has any laundry to toss in with his, and Salvador says he’ll grab a few things. Dino’s narration reveals that this will be towels and sheets. We find out that Salvador is a shut-in, and nothing that Dino does can convince him to leave the house. There are heartbreaking scenes, like Dino showing off his new clothing designs, and Salvador declining to take them, and the final breakdown, when Dino finally confronts Salvador. I also found Salvador’s reason for doing it quite reasonable, but I also went to a conceptual art college and I have friends that would do this.

One of the stories is called “Noe and the Twins.” As this is not a smutty book, this was actually a delightful and touching story about a man who fell in love with both brothers, not able to choose a favorite among them, so all three live together. I loved it to pieces. Noe’s face when not making a decision is absolutely priceless.

Not all of them are about couples, or romance. One story is about a puppet maker named Pepe and a young boy that grows close to him. The boy is mute, and Pepe convinces him to talk through the puppets and dolls in his apartment. The boy’s predicament reminds him of another from his past. I promise there is nothing between Pepe and the boy.

The framing device begins and ends the novel, with the relationship between Luca, the writer, and Javi, the landlord. Javi picks Luca up like a stray off the street, and Luca is primarily writing for Javi, who says he likes happy endings. There is no romantic relationship between the two until the very end, which I liked. Javi is revealed throughout the book little by little, and there are tears at the end when he shares his past with Luca.

It’s difficult for me to convey why I liked this book so much. It simply does everything well. There’s not too much of anything, so it’s a perfect balance of sweet, humorous, melodramatic, romantic, and… well, simple. And I really liked that about it. Even with the more subtle flavor here, it still managed to sweep me off my feet. If you have a taste for a more mature flavor of BL, this is a definite must read.


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