A collection of short stories embraces the theme of displacement, highlighting the struggles of immigrants.
In 12 tales, Aragno (Symbolization, 2016, etc.) seeks to explore the real immigrant experience, one divorced from what she calls “the facile, idealized version of migration as an unblemished horizon of rosy options and new possibilities.” With a psychological bent, the author details the “deep fault-line at the center of the self” that occurs with any uprooting from home, with any exile. The opener, “The Crossing,” follows a young dancer’s sea voyage from Europe to America in the mid-1960s, a trek she is taking against her will at her mother’s behest. The ship is, for her, “a floating jail,” contrary to what is expected on a transcontinental trip, but she undergoes a sort of rebirth during her journey. An ocean liner appears in two other stories: “Addio Emilio” follows a crew member as a ship begins to sink, torn between his duty and his passion for a woman onboard; “Isaac” features a young stowaway musician trying to escape a restrictive family environment. Aragno’s prose most often relies on a stream-of-consciousness style, usually elliptical fragments of gradually cascading thoughts, most of all in “As he lay dying,” the bedside account of a wife watching her husband perish. This style, however, becomes grating in its repetition over the course of the tales. Many of them are influenced by historical events, such as “The Triangle,” about a young immigrant woman caught in the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, or “Jonestown,” the anguished recollection of a survivor of the 1978 massacre. These events add high stakes to the narratives but do sap some of the suspense for wise readers. Aragno deserves credit for concentrating on marginalized and overlooked characters, as in “The Bride of Palestine,” about the young woman of the title and her displaced family, and “Ayurnamut, It Cannot be Otherwise,” centered on the resilience of a group of Inuit who are forced to relocate to an inhospitable land by the Canadian government. The psychological focus in these stories, however, leads to more telling than showing, with the characters’ trajectories clinically explained rather than revealed through subtler examples.
Tales with captivating premises that sometimes lack strongly developed characters.