A Mask For Every Occasion: A Review of Every Mask I Tried On By Alina Stefanescu

Bright Horse Books, 2018. 254 pages. ISBN: 978-1-94467-08-1

By China Myers

Every Mask I Tried On reads like poetry, but within its rhythm there exists a collection of stories that candidly expose guilty pleasures, melancholy affairs, and mischievous thoughts. Stefanescu shows how different scenarios open a gateway for people to slip into their alter ego; hence, the mask. She writes an ode of how people don a mask for every occasion, some with or without intention. The reader begins to recognize the parade of situations that blindside the innocent and result in a form of masking. A sudden breakup, revenge, death, love, or any spontaneous moment that makes you wince or smile may have been a culprit of a sudden personality redo.

Her collection of tales meander down life’s road, exposing the irony of disguises that people wear, the extensions of their characters – their many masks. Some masks parade around loving every minute of their disguise, while others hide the ugly or beg for forgiveness. Far funnier are the ones that have no idea they are masked at all.

Prize for most disconcerting masks goes to the ones in which a person hides everything except their eyes.

Stefanescu’s Every Mask I Tried On feels like a portrayal of bare honesty as her stories boldly draw the reader into a collage of circumstances – the good, the bad, the ugly – all presented without a filter as the reader vicariously lives through her words. Stefanescu uses one of her chapters to discuss the idiosyncrasies of a school carpool line – an environment where talk of family values reveal deep resentment and anger. We join the ride with her as she describes why her husband finds the carpool a sentence of torture and how some of the mothers are wickedly intriguing:

“If I weren’t happily married, I’d drive over to Marybell’s house with a bottle of Merlot, pull down her pants, and press my tongue deep into her sweeter side.”

Every Mask I Tried On is hard to put down because each story carries its own weight. Its compelling language intrigues the reader to continue to the next chronicle, not knowing what they may find. Reading her stories engage a multitude of emotions, leaving the reader wondering how someone could be so brave, so cruel, so composed. In one of Stefanescu’s more solemn chapters entitled "Rental Units," she talks about Vivi, a women who wears a mask of silence to ward off her memories and her bad husbands:

 “Her silence hides things including the sound of a voice asking for a towel. Her silence hides a polite please. The gurgle of running water hides her silence as well as whatever she asks when she isn’t going to talk about the husbands.”

Simultaneously, there is an ease of writing found as the reader flips through the stories and distinguishes her keen interpretations of how a mask can make one seem multi-dimensional. A mask can offer a way to shift into a new guise at any time, and while one may feel the slightest urge of hush-hush, in reality, the mask is an escape mechanism.  Stefanescu cleverly amuses the reader with a slew of characters and their countless traits and masks they may choose to wear, like the one of a mortician, in her chapter, "Mothers Who Die":

“His shirt was a lavender bloom straight from heaven’s finest arboretum. The business of death if bright colors and gaudy in person - but fancy on the next year’s tax return.”

She talks about a mask of reality for a woman who mourns her mother and realizes that death is the aftermath of life, in her chapter, "One of Those Single-Scene Fixer-Uppers":

“If I were a story, I’d be one of those single-scene fixer-uppers which appear fresh & mod but are actually as ancient as a woman alone in a room with nothing to iron.”

Another chapter describes the mask of youthfulness and the confusion of virginity in matters of  love or lust:

“To lose your virginity is like losing an investment – a value you only have once. A magic gold coin that gets you through a gate and then what?”

Throughout all the witty rhetoric and heartfelt stories, Every Mask I Tried On offers the reader a sense of true and false identities that people present to the world as they encounter their trials of life. We read their experiences of choices; how they lived, how love can be lost or renewed and when it is best to be silent. Each chapter mimics the movement of life, like a roller coaster; it elevates and descends in times of greatness and fragility and exposes which mask fits the occasion.