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The Immigrant Experience,
This review is from: Drown (Paperback)
This exceedingly strong debut collection of stories is set in the ghettos of the Dominican Republic and New Jersey, but most of all in the invisible psychic landscape of the immigrants who move from the first to the latter. Six of the ten stories here may be familiar to readers of The New Yorker, Story, or other well-regarded literary mags in whose pages they previously appeared. Díaz's stories offer grimly matter-of-fact accounts of harsh childhoods in harsh environments where fathers are either feared or absent and mothers are exhausted and resigned to their fate.
The stories set in the DR are from a youth's perspective, and have the unmistakable whiff of the autobiographical about them. In "Ysrael", the narrator and his brother are sent to the campo for the summer to live with relatives. There, they are casually cruel to a local boy whose face was disfigured by a pig. The boy later turns up as the subject of "No Face", which attempts to delve into his mind, with lesser effect than almost all the other stories. A third story, "Arguantando" follows the family from "Ysrael" as they wait to hear from their father, who has moved to the US. The final and longest story in the collection, "Negocios", explains the father's journey to the US and his many trials and tribulations before he can bring his family over.
The stories set in the US follow the young boy as he grows older in New Jersey-where shoplifting, drug dealing, and eventually work replace the poverty of the slums of Santa Domingo. "Fiesta, 1980" is the best car-sickness story you're likely to read and "How To Date" is a quick guide to interracial dating, perhaps overly flip when compared to the other stories. In "Aurora", a teenage drug dealer (the young boy grown older?) daydreams about a normal life with a crack-addicted girl. The same character reappears in "Drown", describing a former close friend's homosexual advances and his own ambivalence.
My favorite two stories were "Boyfriend" and "Edison, New Jersey". The first is a very brief story about a young man overhearing his downstairs neighbor's breakup, and working up the courage to eventually speak to her. The second is about a young man who helps deliver and assemble pool tables for a living and his well-meaning attempt to help a Dominican girl escape a life of sexual service. Both stories contain a wistful nostalgic air that's both dead on and haunting. All of Díaz's stories are immensely satisfying, and taken as a whole, they form an excellent picture of the Dominican immigrant experience. It's been six years now since this collection came out, and hopefully we'll be seeing something new soon from him.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jan 26, 2011 12:54:44 PM PST
Kat Black says:
Aurora and Drown have different protagonists. The narrator of Drown mentions Lucero from Aurora by name when he is in the pool.
In reply to an earlier post on Sep 18, 2012 9:23:17 AM PDT
Ed Morgan says:
Kat, thanks for clarifying this. With so many characters involved, the arcs of their lives can become a bit confusing.
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