Edwidge Danticat has been laying waste to readers’ hearts with her gorgeous prose for 25 years. She published her first novel, “Breath, Eyes, Memory,” when she was 25, and Oprah selected it for her book club. Danticat managed the spotlight with grace and has only deepened her art, as evidenced by “Everything Inside,” her collection of eight soulful stories about Haitian immigrants in America and their descendants.
Love and its attendant vulnerability and loss is Danticat’s primary subject. These stories turn on secrets, betrayal and accidents, but never feel melodramatic; traumas shake even ordinary lives.
Danticat’s tenderhearted characters are moved by other people’s grief for a father they never knew (“In the Old Days”), or hoodwinked by a plea for money from an ex-husband claiming the woman he cheated with has been kidnapped (“Dosas”). Danticat’s characters give, they love, they agree to requests it would be wiser to refuse: They are relentlessly all-in. By drawing the reader deep into her characters’ psyches, Danticat makes us complicit in their bad moves.
What’s the right way to love? In several stories, Haitian-Americans’ views on this subject clash with native Haitian customs. In “The Port-au-Prince Marriage Special,” the Haitian-American narrator and her husband open a hotel in Haiti. When an employee falls ill with AIDS, they try to help her. The narrator enjoins the sick woman’s mother to be more loving, while imagining the woman’s thoughts: “Why does it all come back to one kind of love with them, the kind of love you keep talking about rather than the kind of love that shatters you to pieces?”
In “Sunrise, Sunset,” Carole is a Haitian immigrant with dementia who thinks her daughter should simply shake off her postpartum depression. “Doesn’t she know that she is an exception in this world, where it is normal to be unhappy, to be hungry, to work nonstop and earn next to nothing, and to suffer the whims of everything from tyrants to hurricanes and earthquakes?”
The final and most devastating story in the collection, “Without Inspection,” begins, “It took Arnold six and a half seconds to fall five hundred feet.” You might tell yourself not to get attached. But the struggle against attachment is futile. You’re immediately as much of a goner as Arnold is.
As he plunges, Danticat conjures Arnold’s almost-fatal journey across the ocean; Darline, the widow he loves; Paris, her son with a disability; and the simple pleasures of Arnold’s life. “There are loves that outlive lovers,” Arnold thinks. “Darline would now have two of those. He would also have two: Darline and Paris.”
We’re all terminal cases, Danticat’s lush stories suggest, but that doesn’t mean that any of us are unworthy of love.
Jenny Shank’s novel “The Ringer” won the High Plains Book Award. Her writing has appeared in the Atlantic, the Washington Post and McSweeney’s.
By: Edwidge Danticat.
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf, 223 pages, $25.95.