Saturday, May 8, 2010

Drown, by Junot Diaz

Drown is a collection of vignettes about various members of a Domican family (or two) and their lives in the Dominican Republic and New Jersey and New York. One central figure is Yunior who shows up as a child. Yunior has a strong streak of empathy and kindness in him that fails to keep him from taking part in cruel, thoughtless, and maybe cowardly behavior. His father, Ramon, who immigrated to the US first and largely abandons family in the DR, is a heap of contradictions, but ultimately just pragmatic. Often present as wallpaper, or shadows, are Mami, Ramon's wife, who supports her children working two jobs, and Rafa, Yunior's rather brutal brother and personal ringleader. Time is out of joint; earlier stories (though rarely are they full stories) set up questions that are answered in later ones. The most memorable were the car sick story, the young boys' capture and unveiling of the disfigured boy in the campo, and Ramon's theft of a life for himself in New York. Some of the most vivid were the hardest to hear. There are also stories about a young man, who isn't named, but called Macho. He's a drug dealer, a tough guy, living with his mother, hating his absent father. Maybe he's an older Yunior, maybe he's the third Ramon (Ramon senior's son by his green-card wife), maybe he's unconnected but a different sort of product of the immigrant existence. His attempts to love Aurelia, the tweaker, are sad; as it the brief homosexual encounter that ended his friendship with Betto.

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