Eight stories and a novella set in Panama introduce a dazzling new talent.
Henríquez’s voice is artfully simple and unembellished, soft yet quietly piercing. Her tales record realizations of separateness, moments of empowerment, acknowledgements of powerful family bonds. These emotional truths and insights are often experienced by young women, several with absent fathers. In “Ashes,” the endurance of a mother’s love is all that remains to Mireya, whose job has ended and whose boyfriend has deceived her. In “The Wide Pale Ocean,” Ysabel’s first taste of romance only reinforces her closeness to the mother who has brought her up alone, having gotten pregnant after a one-night stand. Many of the men here are unreliable, offering sex and the promise of caring, but then bringing disappointment, and sometimes worse. Yanina, in a story named after her, repeatedly asks Rene to marry her, but he can’t quite commit. “Beautiful” sees an errant father returning home, only to abuse his daughter Rosaria, who finds a way to expose his deeds and reclaim herself. Panama colors each story differently: in its dripping forests, tropical valleys, religious processions, teeming streets. Jobs come and go; electrical appliances are hard to sell; snow falls like a miracle. Two stories, “The Box House and the Snow” and “Chasing Birds,” are set outside urban terrain and lack of conviction. The title novella is the only piece with overt political references—to street violence, the American invasion and Noriega’s surrender—which are mirrored in the story of a family dispossessed of its home and that of a young boy who learns hard lessons of the heart.
Stories redolent of innocent attachment tempered by obdurate experience—compassionate, tender and fresh.