Review: Everything Inside by Edwidge Danticat (2019)

Everything Inside by Edwidge Danticat

Blurb

WINNER OF THE NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD
WINNER OF THE STORY PRIZE
WINNER OF THE 2020 VILCEK PRIZE IN LITERATURE

From the internationally acclaimed, best-selling author of Brother, I’m Dying, a collection of vividly imagined stories about community, family, and love.

Rich with hard-won wisdom and humanity, set in locales from Miami and Port-au-Prince to a small unnamed country in the Caribbean and beyond, Everything Inside is at once wide in scope and intimate, as it explores the forces that pull us together, or drive us apart, sometimes in the same searing instant.

In these eight powerful, emotionally absorbing stories, a romance unexpectedly sparks between two wounded friends; a marriage ends for what seem like noble reasons, but with irreparable consequences; a young woman holds on to an impossible dream even as she fights for her survival; two lovers reunite after unimaginable tragedy, both for their country and in their lives; a baby’s christening brings three generations of a family to a precarious dance between old and new; a man falls to his death in slow motion, reliving the defining moments of the life he is about to lose.

This is the indelible work of a keen observer of the human heart–a master at her best.

Review

A few months ago, I reviewed Dancers on the Shore by William Melvin Kelley, a collection of short stories republished this year by riverrun. The stories blew me away, to the point where I couldn’t believe I hadn’t come across the writer before. With this book by Edwidge Danticat, out with the same publisher, that feeling came upon me again. A massive thank you to Katya Ellis for my copy, which I received in exchange for an honest review. I am so thrilled to discover a new-to-me author of such incredible talent and poise.

It takes an absolute master of the short story form to do what Danticat does in this stunning collection, which is to cut to the core of human experience. Like Kelley, or like Alice Munro, the stories in this book perform a kind of ‘deep mining’ of psychological and emotional experience, so much so that it reads not like fiction but, as I have previously said of Munro’s work, like documents of human truth. The eight stories in this collection, which together form a beautifully varied record of the Haitian immigrant experience, also reminded me some of the very best of films and literature, the ones which give me the sense that we’re coming in part-way through the story, that the lives of the characters existed before we started reading, and will continue after the final scene. (In case you’re at all interested, Pedro Almodovar’s films also give me this sensation, as well as the short story writers mentioned above.)

Having established that I am firmly of the opinion that this collection is utterly astounding, it is quite hard for me to pick out my favourite stories. Each offers something different; each stands apart from and in relation to the others. If I had to add one to my imaginary anthology of all time greatest short stories (which I really ought to do a write up of one day…) it would be In The Old Days, a delicately balanced, hugely poignant story of a daughter’s return that had me in tears. Other stories which will stay with me for a long time are The Gift, in which the spectre of tragedy hangs over a meeting of former lovers; Hot-Air Balloon, a story whose last line gave me the ‘short story pang’ of emotion; and the final story, Without Inspection, which brings the collection to a surging, impactful (sorry, I shouldn’t pun about such a beautiful book) conclusion.

I find it very hard to write coherent reviews of books which move me as much as Everything Inside did, so I will wrap up here. Suffice it to say that if you read to better understand what it is to be human, what it is to feel, then you will want to read this book. I am desperate to read more by Danticat, and feel lucky to have had the chance to read such a powerful and profound writer.

Everything Inside by Edwidge Danticat is published by riverrun and is available now.

5 thoughts on “Review: Everything Inside by Edwidge Danticat (2019)

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