‘Ashes’ by Cristina Henríquez

Ashes by Cristina Henríquez, 2005

The magic trick:

Maintaining realism through dramatic plot points

There is a certain kind of short story especially popular in this first quarter of the 21st century that so honors its quest to convey realism that very little happens in the plot. Reality for most of us, we must admit, rarely features huge, neat plot points. So this representation of modern malaise feels fairly accurate.

“Ashes” falls squarely into this genre. Or appears to want to be included in this genre. Thing is – big stuff happens in this story. Our protagonist is dealing with the death of her mother and the dramatic discovery of her boyfriend’s infidelity in the same week.

That is most definitely not a realism lacking point plots.

But it works. It really does.

The key, I think, is that even amid the extreme moments of plot, the storytelling basics remain sound. The characters never do anything that seems unlike their characters. They never say anything that feels false.

So the story rises to become a rare “cake and eat it too” example of modern realism that maintains its credibility throughout plot extremes.

And that’s quite a trick on Henríquez’s part.

The selection:

“Papi’s going to stay with me now,” Jano says. “I don’t think he can be alone.”

“He can stay with me,” I say.

Jano shakes his head. “Uh-uh.”

“Why not?”

“He’ll like it at our house better.”

“My place is fine.”

“What?” Jano asks. “You have a newfound interest in him?”

“Do you?”

We’re at an ice-cream shop near my work. The cold air has turned Jano’s lips slightly purple. Besides an employee in a pink apron, we’re the only people here. The bright lights bounce off the white counters and smack me in the face. I’m quiet for a minute. Then I start on a reel of questions. How does he know it was a heart attack? What are we going to do now? What’s happening to the house? Is his wife, Zenia, O.K. with Papi being there? What else did Papi say? Why did Sra. López call him instead of me?

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