Junot Diaz has been hailed as one of a new breed of East Coast talents. His insight into the Spanish American experience in the US can be deservedly labeled as profoundly moving and richly complex. It is astonishing how little attention has thus far been paid to this element of American culture, but let's hope that Diaz's work will go some way to redressing this imbalance.
The stories in Drown focus on characters who have managed to survive domestic abuse, pandemic crime and crippling prejudice. Despite the recurrent and critically important theme of social dislocation, Diaz doesn't seek to simplify or patronize. His characters are individuals who make a convincing attempt to breathe beyond the pages of the book.
Diaz is a sympathetic narrator and his characters are emphatically three-dimensional. In the first story, told from the perspective of a young boy, his bullying and adulterous father is contrasted with his benevolent and loving Mother. However the father is not all beast and despite the misery he inflicts, the man is also full of a bitter regret for all that he has allowed to be lost between himself and his wife.
Despite their innate fragility, Diaz's characters have a revitalizing vigour. I think of the schoolboys who feel remorse for hunting and taunting the school freak, and the lover who regularly forgives his largely absent girlfriend who steals from him to feed her drug habit. These and other characters disappear, sometimes to return or more frequently indefinitely lost in a haze of pollution and dirt.
I recommend this book as an astonishingly effective piece of literature. More than this, there are, to my mind, few contemporary parallels. Buy it, read it, recommend it.