"Everyone else can leave, but not you."
This week's New Yorker introduces a strong new voice in fiction. Ashes, a story by Cristina Henriquez enters the consciousness of the reader harshly. In the middle of her shift at the Casa de la Carne, the narrator, Mireya, is informed that her mother has died suddenly. She finishes the shift before calling her brother to get the details. At this point, I feel like I am on foreign soil, both geographically and emotionally. I'm not sure who is more heartless, Mireya's employer or the stoic daughter with whom I'm being asked to empathize. But the prose is sharp and concise and I'm still reading. Lucky for me.
This story rewarded me for my time in the way that only the best fiction does. It started with a blank and unknown heart, and then illuminated it so brightly that I felt like I had walked the streets of Panama City with Mireya, worked a few mind numbing shifts at the Casa de la Carne, and then gone home where a shiftless and unfaithful boyfriend named Armando waits for her to provide him with supper. It soon becomes obvious that the only meaningful connection Mireya has is with her mother.
"Everyone else can leave, but not you," her mother told her once, and now it seems that she has renegged on her own bargain. By the end of the story, even Mireya's taciturn response to her mother's death is seen for what it is: a reflection of the grief that ultimately derails her life. In rapid succession, she loses her job, and pummels Armando in the street when she sees him with another woman.
In our final image of Mireya, she is alone with her mother's ashes, but she is "looking out on what she can see." As bleak as the scene appears, there is something particularly hopeful in it that outward vision. Hopeful is also the way I would describe the future of this new writer, whose first collection of short stories will be released in September. I, for one, will be watching for it.
That sounds really good, made me want to run out and get it. My list is getting very long.
I'm ashamed and embarrassed to say I've never read the New Yorker, but you've got me interested now and I may have to run out and get a copy.
R. and Sharon, let me know what you think after you read it!
I will be watching for "Ashes". Your post does it great justice. More than enough to pull me in.
I also wanted to thank you for greatly valued comment at my blog regarding P&E: Literary Agents. I am not fully comfortable bringing anything like that to the attention of hopeful writers if it is not a good resource or may inadvertantly cause someone harm in their attempts at becoming a published author. I had to give posting that some serious thought, but now I'm happy that I did... :o)
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