Edwidge Danticat’s collection “Everything Inside” gathers eight previously published short stories that hinge upon devastations that people inevitably, and sometimes unexpectedly, encounter. The title of this volume is apt because each story deftly climbs into the interiors of their main characters. Their impressions, reactions and unfolding conclusions in response to each loss are captured in resonant images that offer fully realized people caught in moments that drag them through a gamut of grief, pain, anger and unanswered questions.
Although many of her characters experience some connection to Haiti or the neighborhood of Little Haiti in Miami, Danticat draws us into the intimacies of losing a spouse to infidelity, a political position, or even death. “Dosas,” the first, and one of the longer short stories in the collection, takes us into the working life of a home-care attendant who is contacted by her ex-husband. He desperately reaches out to ask her for ransom money to save Olivia, the woman who took her husband and was once her friend. “The Port-au-Prince Marriage Special” is told from the perspective of a woman who co-owns a hotel with her husband and helps get treatment for a housekeeper diagnosed with AIDS.
The stories present characters and situations that grip readers within their realities. “Everything Inside” feels as resonant as the details of Danticat’s 2007 memoir “Brother, I’m Dying,” except these stories cultivate empathy for fictional characters. After the assassination of a small island country’s prime minister, Danticat explores the territory of a prime minister’s daughter and her mother coming to live in Brooklyn through the eyes of the daughter’s former neighbor and childhood friend, and after they reunite as adults in “Seven Stories.”
“Sunrise, Sunset” traverses between the lapsing mental state of a mother suffering from Alzheimer’s and the very real threats that she poses to family members. In “Hot-Air Balloons,” a college roommate recounts how her friend goes to work at a sexual assault center in Haiti. The experience is as irrevocable as the friend’s tattoo needled just above her collarbone.
Although most of these stories center on women, the most surprising and poignant story concludes the collection with “Without Inspection.” In this final story of Ernesto Fernandez, a man who is working on a construction site is recounting his life within the six seconds of his 500-foot fall, and the life he has built with Darline, who rescued him from the beach where he landed as an illegal immigrant. Since he is not technically “here” in the United States, he builds a life with Darline and their son Paris, a life that goes officially unacknowledged until his death.
In telling these stories, Danticat offers a collection that considers not only what people feel under the duress of loss, but she offers us a scope of reasons why people persist and continue living—children, love, helping others who might still have a chance at their own lives, friendship and building new relationships. In doing so, we see how people, Haitian, across the diaspora and otherwise, recall the two epigraphs at the beginning of “Everything Inside.” Puerto Rican writer Cindy Jiménez-Vera explains that we are “born in exile” and “to walk the earth is an eternal diaspora” which points to how we’ve been exiled from the womb, but then we are all walking through this earth, humbled and vulnerable to experience joy and grief. However, what keeps us moving is encapsulated in the second epigraph from Nikki Giovanni, which states “We love because it’s the only true adventure.” That adventure helps us carry everything intact, and we hope, a little bit lighter despite the losses.
By Edwidge Danticat
Knopf, 240 pages
Tara Betts is the author of “Break the Habit” and “Arc & Hue.” Her interviews and features have appeared in publications such as Hello Giggles, Mosaic Magazine, NYLON, The Source, Sixty Inches from Center, and Poetry magazine. She also hosts author chats at the Seminary Co-Op bookstores in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood.