APRIL 2005

> A REVIEW OF DIAZ'S DROWN (1996) | jason jordan

It seems as if almost every day brings new, irrevocable truths about the popularity of the Spanish language. For instance, everyone will run into a Spanish-speaker at some point in his/her life and, chances are, each will be attempting to procure something from one another, or will be working towards a greater goal. Whether one is ordering food from a local Mex-Mex establishment or interacting with them on the job, the fact is that Spanish has pervaded the English-speaker's realm. And, that is the same with Junot Diaz's Drown (Riverhead Books, 1996). If the work of the aforementioned is to be enjoyed, then the reader simply must be receptive to Spanish, both slang and proper.

As far as technicalities are concerned, Drown is a 200-page collection of short stories that traverse all sorts of landscapes, topics, and familial shortcomings. In the novel's opener, "Ysrael," the narrator allows us to glimpse into moments from his childhood as he iterates the story. Ysrael, the character, is a young boy whose face was mutilated by a ravenous pig, and the former conceals his mangled face with a mask that is seldom removed. Rafa the narrator's brother and the narrator seek out Ysrael and remove his mask by force; it's these sorts of idiosyncrasies that make Diaz's work so intriguing. The author also delves into family problems in stories such as "Fiesta, 1980," "Aguantando," and "Negocios." But, it's the stories like "Edison, New Jersey," which features the narrator as a pool table deliverer, and "How to Date a Browngirl, Blackgirl, Whitegirl, or Halfie," which boasts second-person narration as well as interesting subject matter that feels as if it's advice coming from an older brother, that make his book stand out.

Again, as with any project up for criticism, Drown is not without its individual quagmires. Spanish, as I mentioned earlier, is riddled throughout the book, and is sometimes a tad overwhelming. By the end of the first story, though, easily decipherable words such as "tio" and "tia" become self-explanatory. Some slang words, however, will have you scratching your head until you finally decide to just skip over them. For those of us that fancy a book with solid organization, Diaz's compendium also fails at this. The index though the stories are cataloged in order is devoid of page numbers, which makes it a complete bitch to find things sometimes. Is the aforesaid statement a petty gripe? Methinks so.

Nevertheless, I think Drown is recommendable insomuch that it provides insight into idiosyncratic situations, and mixes those insights with cynical, humorous, and other outlooks that rarely pan out as they should. Diaz, without a doubt, is very talented, and though the collection can be hit or miss, it's a worthwhile endeavor. Me gusta.

> BIOGRAPHY | about the author

Jason Jordan is a writer who lives in New Albany, Indiana, and hosts the Bean Street Reading Series on an on-going basis. He has been featured at the Tuesday Night Reading Series in Evansville, Indiana, and has been published in zines such as The Giles Corey Press, THE EDWARD SOCIETY, and THE2NDHAND.