A choppy debut from young activist and teacher Cruz attempts to record the Dominican experience in New York City.
Soledad returns to her family’s Washington Heights neighborhood from her downtown art-gallery job when her mother, Olivia, falls mysteriously ill. It’s this illness—Olivia’s already a “living ghost,” living in a state somewhere between depression and coma—that serves as the story’s apparatus of Dominican mysticism: the vehicle on which we will tour “Nueva Yol.” We meet Flaca, Soledad’s slutty teenaged sister, and Richie, a neighborhood tough, then follow the love triangle that ensues among them, the source of what little tension there is. A string of subplots and minor characters follow, including Ciego, the requisite wise blind man, and Toe-Knee, the token non-Dominican (he’s a black drug dealer), but none of them is particularly well-drawn, and there’s no real reason Soledad is the titular character. After things get moving, there’s also a parade of prostitutes and palm readers and magicians with their sauces and specialties, and though we’ve been assured that the ’hood is filled with hoods, Richie turns out to be a talented musician, Soledad an artist, Flaca an undiscovered prodigy, and Ciego an insightful anthropologist—self-taught, of course. This is the world where people literally say “Wassup?” to each other. It’s Do the Right Cosa, and sometimes Cruz’s bleeds into unnecessary Spanish, perhaps there to remind the gringos that folk from D.R. speak a different language, are more than banal: they’re a reminder that the story is ultimately addressed to an audience of blanquitos. The odd moment when Cruz seems to capture genuineness—a man cradles his spittoon in his lap, men play dominos on tables meant for chess—seem accidental in light of the fray of rote narrative choices.
Not even a last-minute death and the tension of ambiguities—what is Flaca’s real name? who is Soledad’s real father?—are enough to redeem this unambitious first effort.