The Dew Breaker by Edwidge Danticat was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction. Sometimes, I read accolades like this and go, “I’ll be the judge of that.” But after a close read of her nine-story collection, I was reminded Edwidge slays with her pen.
Writing nine short stories that stand alone are what readers expects. But Edwidge ups the ante by creating stories that are all part of a larger plot. Each one follows the lives affected by the dew breaker, a Haitian man with a scar on his face, who like the name in Creole implies torturers people as part of the Milicient, the Volunteers for National Security in Haiti under the Sovereign One. But I wonder if The Dew Breaker was written as one fiction story following the antagonist would it be as impactful?
Edwidge’s writing is immersed in the Haitian diaspora. Regardless if her characters are placed in Haiti or a place like Flatbush that has a strong Haitian community. The language, music and references reflect her passion for her people. However, she makes the choice to write dialogue in English that has taken place in Creole. Although it helps make context clearer for none Creole speakers, I’d much rather infer what’s being said from the context.
Her characters are well-developed and flawed. In the short story titled, The Dew Breaker the reader meets a preacher obsessed with empowering his congregation at the expense of his wife and ultimately his life. He’s juxtaposed against the dew breaker, who although sometimes enjoys his cruel acts wishes for an opportunity to live a more humane life.
She fills her writing with a variety of literary devices to make her fiction come alive. In The Book of Miracles, she uses song lyrics and in The Funeral Singers she frames the story in weeks. My favorite technique she used was giving “Two trees, 10 feet apart,” a math problem. (I thought writers shied away from math). With the exception of The Book of the Dead and Monkey Tails being written in first-person, the other seven stories are written in third-person. I didn’t notice any difference in ability to convey a moving story.
I would recommend this book for writers who want to learn about craft, teachers looking to teach short story and anyone who has a strong interest in the Haitian diaspora.
Rashaun J. Allen (@rashaunjallen) is an MFA in Creative Writing and Literature candidate at SUNY Stony Brook, where he is working on Christine’s Dream – A Memoir of Love, Loss & Life. He is the author of A Walk Through Brooklyn & In The Moment and has been featured in The South Hampton Review. Find more of his work at www.rashaunjallen.com