21 04 2009
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In, “Drown”, Junot Diaz’s compilation of short stories, we are invited to explore a streets-eye view of Latino-American melting pot culture. Diaz writes of life as a boy in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and of coming of age in the suburban wastes of New Jersey.
Diaz’s boys grow up rudderless with missing or distant fathers. In “Aguatando” a boy lives the first nine years of his life without ever meeting his father, who has immigrated to the United States, but forgotten his promise to send for the family once he is settled.
Immaturity’s velocity is whimsy, and Diaz moves at the speed of light. In “Ysreal”, two pre-teen brothers, Rafa and Yunior, are sent to visit their Tio for the summer by their weary mother. In the campo, the days are long and hot; there is little else to do but mischief. The brothers seek out a boy whose face was chewed off by a pig. Ysreal wears a wrestling mask in public to hide his shame, but Rafa propelled by curiosity assaults the boy and rips the mask from his face.
His left ear was a nub and you could see the thick veined slab of his tongue through the hole in his cheek. He had no lips. His head was tipped back and his eyes had gone white and the cords were out on his neck. He’d been an infant when the pig had come into the house. The damage looked old but I still jumped back and said, Please, Rafa, let’s go! Rafa crouched and using only two of his fingers, turned Ysreal’s head from side to side.
Diaz’s boys and young men long for the father who isn’t there. Often, they seek out surrogates. The story, “Down,” gives us a young drug dealer trying to make sense of his affection for an older male friend, Beto. Unsure of himself and unprepared by his feelings, the drug dealer ultimately shuns Beto, convincing himself Beto is a “pato”. Without fathers to guide them, Diaz’s protagonists become young adults in age only––attempting to master manhood by trial and error––shaped more by the situations they aimlessly stumble into than by the surname they carry with them.