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Drown (Junot Díaz)

April 23, 2010

Well, this collection is certainly very different from The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. I guess that means it wasn’t what I was expecting (meaning in part that it lacked any of the more supernatural or folkloric elements that Díaz’s novel was so full of). In a way, yes, this was disappointing. However, the stories themselves were quite good.

I think the last story, “Negocios,” was my favorite. It’s not that it was that different from the others, it’s just that it was longer and really dug into the complexities of immigration in a way that I haven’t seen very often before. While the primary plot follows a man as he leaves his wife and children in the Dominican Republic and travels to the US (starting in Miami, then moving again to New York), it’s a very internal journey. By this I mean that he experienced a lot of things that could be considered part of the archetypal US-immigrant narrative, but his thoughts and emotions regarding these experiences were what really made this story unique. On one level, he’s fairly reprehensible (not really concerned with his familia in the DR, marrying a woman solely for the purpose of using her to attain citizenship, abandoning her and the son he has with her, etc.); on another level, his struggles and his journey illustrate the considerable strength of his character. I think this is where Díaz has really struck deeply into the idea of what it means to be an immigrant to this country — of what it means to deal with racism and injustice and low wages and substandard living conditions and ridiculously long shifts…the list goes on.

The other stories were also good. I think Díaz covered an extraordinary amount of ground here. I mean, he has stories about teenagers in the US, children in the DR, laborers, students, etc. The story “Edison, New Jersey” for instance is about two men who assemble pool tables, and it’s a fairly humorous story that doesn’t deal with any huge, life-altering moments but does deal with the everyday issues that, when accumulated over time, can feel like life-altering moments. It also ends on a hopeful note.

Many of his stories deal with relationships between men — friendships, but friendships that seem to run deeper than romantic relationships. I’ll admit that the final lines of “Negocios” left me wondering about the father’s relationship with his buddy, Chuito — I think there are implications of their relationship being something more than friendship. After all, the narrative is given over to the son at the end, and he’s talking about how he visited his father’s second wife after his father had left his family as well. Then he goes on to describe the day his father came to get his familia from the DR and bring them back to NY, and he says:

“He bought a carton [of cigarettes] at a stand, knowing how expensive they would be abroad. The first subway station on Bond would have taken him to the airport and I like to think that he grabbed that first train, instead of what was more likely true, that he had gone out to Chuito’s first, before flying south to get us.” (208)

There’s nothing major or scandalous here, but I think there is a subtle hint that Chuito was more important to his father than the familia was, and that his father ultimately chose Chuito over everyone else. It’s small, but it’s something that stood out to me — by ending the story this way, Díaz left me wondering….

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