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When the de La Cruz Family Danced Paperback – June 28, 2011
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Miscolta is a pitch-perfect prose stylist and a passionately empathetic creator: she savors sentence-making and attends to the all-important nuanced moments between people. --Antonya Nelson, author of Bound
In her deft debut novel, Donna Miscolta presents a clarifying vision of post-immigration America. Miscolta's novel is intricate, tender, and elegantly written--a necessary novel for our times. --Rick Barot, author of Want
A smoothly written debut that sways between the Philippines and the U.S., between the present and past, and between the secrets and hard truths of its compelling characters. --Cristina Garcia, author of The Lady Matador's Hotel
When the de la Cruz Family Danced is my kind of book--characters I fell in love with, prose that made me swoon, dialogue that rang true. --Noel Alumit, author of Talking to the Moon and Letters to Montgomery Clift
When the de la Cruz Family Danced introduces a wise, warm, funny and big-hearted writer to the world. This book is a delight. -- Rebecca Brown, author of American Romances
From the Back Cover
This extraordinary novel illustrates a family's long journey toward making peace--with the world, with the family, and with individual selves. Miscolta is a pitch-perfect prose stylist and a passionately empathetic creator: she savors sentence-making and attends to the all-important nuanced moments between people. This chronicle of a family is beautifully observed and heart-rendingly told, and these characters will linger long after you've closed the book. I feel blessed to have met this family and to have made the journey with them.
-- Antonya Nelson, author of Bound
In her deft debut novel, Donna Miscolta presents a clarifying vision of post-immigration America. Longings acted upon or stifled, secrets disclosed or withheld, connections made or frayed--Miscolta shows that the extended de la Cruz family is a mirror of the things that bind us and keep us apart. When the de la Cruz Family Danced may be one particular family's aching story, but the novel also has a largeness that encompasses the evolving formal history of the novel, the history of family life in America, and the continuing story of how immigrants carry the burdens of the past into the strange present. Miscolta's novel is intricate, tender, and elegantly written--a necessary novel for our times. -- Rick Barot, author of Want
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"Whenever Johnny considered that hot, stifling afternoon with Bunny on her couch in that unlikely room in Manila, his eyes ached at the memory and his stomach fluttered with guilt. At the infidelity to Tess, yes. But there was something else: the insult to Bunny... He walked out into the daylight on the busy Manila Street with its odors of disel, dust, frying oil, and sickly sweet candies. Beneath the hot blinding colors of sky, and amid buildings painted cheaply yellow and orange, he felt disoriented and alone in a country he no longer belonged to."
Like Jane Austen, Donna has written a story where most of the action is internal to the characters. A young man questions his paternity, an old man reconsiders his treatment of his family, people grow a little. But this is no stuffy English comedy of manners. A mixed-race family living in a bad neighborhood in a strip-mall-ridden So-Cal town, the de la Cruzes have no fashion sense and few social skills. They are misfits even amongst each other, sharing little more as a family than a sense that everything they do is slightly skewed somehow. Here's an example:
Johnny was not ignorant of his own shortcomings, especially when he saw them repeated in his daughters - the awkwardness and hesitancy with which they stumbled from childhood through adolescence to confused adulthood, in constant anticipation that life would begin to happen at any moment, but fearful at heart that it had already happened without them.
As the de la Cruz family moves through the non-events of a story tightly tied to the ordinary and mundane, they try so hard not to make mistakes, and yet never quite get anything right. Their repressed feelings and self-edited actions lend a strange flatness to their lives. The introduction of a handsome young man with a stylish haircut and good manners provides enough contrast to their restrained and awkward existence to throw everything off balance. The inevitable climax releases only some of the tension when it realistically comes not as a soap-operatic revelation, but a messy, typical family blow-out at a funeral. The lid is quickly put back on, and on the surface, life continues as before. Although hopeful, any lasting changes are slight, and are not quite acknowledged by the family.
Donna's carefully written novel consistently struck me with its wise observations of average humans. Take, for example, this quote from the book:
"I thought you might have bought green beans," he said.
Tessie was silent a moment. "Well, dear," she said finally, "I'm not a mind reader."
Johnny acknowledged this with a disappointed nod. "It doesn't matter," he said. But it did matter, because some couples knew such things about each other. He knew it was his fault that he and Tessie did not.
Moments like this are almost casually scattered on each evocative page. She captures feelings of awkwardness and insecurity with painful accuracy. Although it is a work of fiction, "When the de la Cruz Family Danced" contains more truth than you are likely to find almost anywhere else.