This colorful collection, winner of the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Fiction, illuminates the hyphenated identities of Afro–Puerto Ricans in the Northeast U.S. and on the island itself.
Gautier's (English/Univ. of Miami; At-Risk, 2011) 11 linked stories feature fractured families and intergenerational language barriers. In the raw though tender “Remembering,” Manny has no memories of his mother but learns to adopt his older brother's memories as his own: “He was smarter than I was and he knew we would never see her again. So he stopped my tears with memories.” In the exquisite “The Last Hurricane,” the narrator, a widow raising two children on the island, expresses her frustration with condescending mainland relatives: “[T]hey really don’t care and they don’t know anything about being a Puerto Rican in Puerto Rico anymore….You have become a postcard to them.” Other stories, particularly those that appear in reverse chronological order, feel thin. Nena’s bitterness toward her grandfather in “Aguanile” seems misplaced without a better, more complete understanding of her other familial relationships, which only comes later in “How to Make Flan.” The title story, centering around the meek and vulnerable Rosa, leaves too many loose ends, leaving the reader unsettled until “Muñeca.” Still, Gautier writes fresh, spirited characters with stylistic flair: “By the time the other stores on the block open, the sun will be out and the sky will look like a sky, not the way it looks to Nelida now, like an ocean flung high above her head.”
A verdant, multilayered though uneven collection.