By Edwidge Danticat
Throughout the stories in “Everything Inside,” Edwidge Danticat’s birthplace, Haiti, emerges in an almost mythic fashion. It is a land where a life can be changed, a land that exists both in the past and the present, whose essence may be carried as far as Miami or Brooklyn. Perhaps most of all, it is a land that is rarely visible, for despite its overwhelming presence in these stories, Danticat sets only two of them there. In and from this unseen Haiti a woman’s ex-husband’s new lover will be kidnapped; a woman’s father will return to be part of a bright post-dictatorship future; a faithless husband will try to reconcile with his wife, only to lose her and his daughter in the earthquake of 2010; a desperate man, ditched from a raft, will crawl onshore and into the arms of the woman who will become his wife.
The stories in “Everything Inside” were published over a 12-year period, from 2006 to just last year. What brings them together, apart from the land and people of Haiti, which has dominated so much of this writer’s career, are Danticat’s precise yet emotionally charged prose and the way she has curated this slim volume, bringing its elements together to create a satisfying whole.
The unreliability of the human heart connects many of these stories. In “Dosas,” a hardworking Miami nursing assistant, Elsie, sends most of her savings to her ex-husband, Blaise, in order to pay the ransom for his girlfriend, once her best friend. The heart that betrays belongs not to Blaise or Elsie’s former friend, but to Elsie herself. She shouldn’t care for these people, who cheated on her and then abandoned her, yet she does.
In the story called “In the Old Days,” the daughter of a dying man arrives in Haiti to meet him for the first time, having been born after he and her mother separated and divorced. But despite the momentous nature of the occasion, her heart fails to be stirred. “In her flushed and distressed face,” she says of her father’s second wife, “I saw the void my father had left as clearly as if it were a gash, a wound, a scar. I was desperate to feel what she was feeling. I envied it, coveted it.”