Negocios by Junot Díaz, 1996
The magic trick:
Telling the story of an absent father – through the father’s point of view but through the son’s voice
This is the story that made me realize just how amazing Drown is. It ranks right up there with my all-time favorite collections – Dubliners, Pastoralia, Dance Of The Happy Shades, The Coast Of Chicago. “Negocios” connects to, well, basically all nine of the previous stories in the collection. It helps everything make sense. It’s lengthy. It lays out Yunior’s father’s story. Most specifically it links to “Aguantando,” the earlier story that finds the family in the D.R. waiting for letters (and money) from the father, trying to make his way in America. Well, now we get to see him making his way.
The coolest thing is that Yunior narrates. It’s a little odd. On one hand, it’s like how would he know all of these intimate details of his father’s life away from him? But on the other – willing suspension of disbelief kicks in pretty completely. Who cares how he knows? He knows and he’s telling us. Good enough. What details too. We’re feeling every moment of this experience with the father. It’s so intimate, it feels like a first person narration. Yunior keeps his personal opinions quiet for the most part, though. This absolutely is Rámon’s story. Yunior pops in just often enough to make you remember how this story affected the family back home at the time and into the future. Masterful stuff. And that’s quite a trick on Díaz’s part.
His first year in Nueva York he lived in Washington Heights, in a roachy flat above what’s now the Tres Marías restaurant. As soon as he secured his apartment and two jobs, one cleaning offices and the other washing dishes, he started writing home. In the first letter he folded four twenty-dollar bills. The trickles of money he sent back were not premeditated like those sent by his other friends, calculated from what he needed to survive; these were arbitrary sums that often left him broke and borrowing until the next pay day.
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