A set of brief, tart stories mostly set amid the Haitian-American community and circling around themes of violation, abuse, and heartbreak.
This debut collection was first published by a small press in 2011, before Gay became a household name as a fiction writer, essayist, and memoirist (Hunger, 2017, etc.). Republished with two new stories in 2018, much of it reads like a rehearsal for her more ambitious work, though it’s worth exploring in itself for Gay’s sharp-elbowed flash fiction. One of the new stories, “Sweet on the Tongue,” echoes the plot of her debut novel, An Untamed State: A woman visiting her native Haiti is abducted and raped, beyond the help of her wealthy husband, and the shorter version emphasizes how difficult it is to articulate an assault in its immediate aftermath. The tension is equally dramatic in the closing “A Cool, Dry Place,” in which a Haitian couple plans to make a dangerous boat trek to Miami, struggling to decode both the mythology of America and their own difficult relationship. Usually, though, the stories are brief and intimate: There's a lesbian relationship in “Of Ghosts and Shadows” (“We are the women people ignore because two women loving each other is an American thing”); American tourists sexually fetishize Haitian women in “The Harder They Come”; and a new arrival to America is taunted in the schoolyard in the opening “Motherfuckers.” This book set the tone that still characterizes much of Gay’s writing: clean, unaffected, allowing the (often furious) emotions to rise naturally out of calm, declarative sentences. That gives her briefest stories a punch even when they come in at two pages or fewer, sketching out the challenges of assimilation in terms of accents, meals, or “What You Need to Know About a Haitian Woman.”
Gay has addressed these subjects with more complexity since, but this debut amply contains the righteous energy that drives all her work.