Everything Is Far From Here by Cristina Henríquez, 2017
The magic trick:
Personalizing a horrific setting and situation
This is a powerful story published in the summer of 2017, so of course it’s right in the middle of the first Trump year. The immigration debate was very much in the news – very timely, very topical. It takes you right into the harsh realities of the immigration situation.
Down on the border, a young woman is in some kind of holding facility that isn’t unlike a prison, and she is trying to reunite with her young son. It reminds me a little bit of the Cynthia Ozick story, “The Shawl.” Obviously, it’s a slippery slope when you start comparing traumas, so I’ll try to keep the comparison literary.
In “The Shawl,” we have a setting that is horrific to an otherworldly degree. It’s a concentration camp during the Holocaust, and that horror is brought out in some ways through contrast. We see a woman in the camp suckling her infant child, and so you have this very, very recognizably human situation amidst this that is so awful that it’s difficult for the reader to even process. And here, Henríquez does something somewhat similar, just in case we can’t wrap our heads around the awful situation our protagonist is it because it’s a setting and a situation that the vast majority of the readers will have never experienced themselves.
Henriquez focuses the conflict on a situation that we probably can understand: a mother losing her mind over the desire to see her young son again. Anybody can understand that, and so just as in ‘The Shawl,” it’s a situation where the story takes an awful setting that the privileged reader can only imagine and adds an element that is universally relatable. This combination brings out the awfulness of the setting much clearer and more personally for the reader.
And that’s quite a trick on Henríquez’ part.
“Tell me,” she says again.
The woman fits the ring over the tip of her thumb. “I heard about a boy they found on the side of the road,” she says. “They took him to a hospital in Laredo.”
She forces herself to swallow. “No,” she says weakly. “My son is younger.”
“Oh, is he?”
“Sorry,” the woman says. “I thought maybe it was him.”
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