The short stories of Junot Díaz contained in his collection Drown provide a look into the culture of Dominicans in New York City: their lives and loves and a great deal of pain. Each of these stories captures a realistic slice of life that read like they have come out of Díaz’s own life experience.
In “Fiesta, 1980” a family travels to a party for some relatives newly arrived from the Dominican Republic. Overshadowing both this festive occasion and their entire lives is their father’s affair with a Puerto Rican woman. Told from the perspective of the middle child, Yunior, we see how this man’s actions spin off into life-altering behaviors; how he brings his children to this woman’s house while they go up stairs for sex, how the mother gets a sense of what is amiss, but remains in the dark because those around her will not come out a speak the one word. “I guess the whole night I’d been waiting for a blowup, something between Papi and Mami. This is how I always figured Papi would be exposed, out in public, where everybody would know. You’re a cheater”. Of course, everyone already knows.
Yunior’s carsickness becomes a physical manifestation of the affair, as if the two began around the same time. The van is symbolic of Papi’s desire to have his own way. In the end, Yunior vomits on the way home from the party, not because he has eaten, but because he sees the pain that his father is causing to the entire family, especially his mother.
The next story, “Aurora,” details the relationship between a benign drug dealer and his crack-addicted girlfriend. This is a most unconventional love story, where there is not so much a sense of great romance, but of the pathetic attempt to hold on to some previous physical connection. “Time don’t flow right with me these days…. I got my own life now, she tells me but you don’t need to be an expert to see that she’s flying again. That’s what she’s got going on, that’s what’s new”.
Aurora, the narrator says, has an addictive personality, but what provides most of the story’s pathos is the narrators complete knowledge of the fact that Aurora is doomed, far more doomed than their relationship. What the narrator cannot let go of is the memories of broken-into apartments, moments in time when they could stand outside of themselves and imagine possibilities that would never come true. Each one of them is trapped in a life of self-destruction, content to not let things change. The narrator is content to remain a low-level dealer, living in rundown apartments with traces of the good life, while Aurora sinks further into the abyss of drug addiction. AIDS, the police and violent death hangs over them all, but no one seems concerned enough to do anything about it.