Twelve tales edging toward the surreal yet grounded in nitty-gritty details of domesticity.
“Where We Come From” sets the tone, somewhere between fairy tale and ghost story. In an unnamed country, an unloved daughter grows into her name, Precious, after her more beloved brothers are lost to war and famine. Then a visiting soldier impregnates Precious. Desperate to have her child born in the US, she keeps the child in her womb for four years. When she finally gives birth, American officials immediately take the child away and deport Precious. She returns, perhaps, to watch her son through the bedroom window of the adopted home where he grows up loved but alien. Another baby crisis occurs in “Miracle” when a white couple gives birth to a baby with ebony black skin. Despite the child’s oddness—abnormally heavy, he tends to disappear and reappear at will—the mother’s love is overarching. When his skin turns pink, she panics that he is no longer her child (every mother’s fear as her child changes, Budnitz implies). This tenuous relationship between looks and identity crops up in the volume’s third major story, “Saving Face,” the complex “testimony” of a woman who may be the former dictator of another unnamed country or may simply be a woman whose face represented the dictator on posters painted by the woman’s lover. The final story, “Motherland,” brings the volume full circle. An island’s men leave for war and never return. Soldiers (American) briefly visit and impregnate the women left behind. The resulting daughters and sons are raised apart to avoid incest, but when a lone man shows up, the daughters experiment with him and find themselves pregnant as a group once again. So the cycle continues.
O. Henry–winner and novelist (I Told You So, 1999) Budnitz shows major talent in her creation of a distinctive fictional world, ambiguous and complex.