This week I read Sweet Diamond Dust by Rosario Ferré. Ferré is amazing, writing her work in Spanish and then translating it into English herself. While I haven’t read her in Spanish (not speaking or reading Spanish fluently is a roadblock there) her English prose are beautiful.
“Sweet Diamond Dust” is the story of the La Valle family fighting over the family inheritance. In each chapter, we get a different member of the household telling their side of the story to Don Hermenegildo, a writer friend of the deceased father’s. Each voice is distinct, and each telling makes the reader reframe the way they’ve been thinking about everything. The mystery of figuring out who actually deserves the land and the intentional melodrama throughout make for a fun read.
That being said, the other three stories (although given the length, they may be better called novellas) in the collection fall flat. They get too bogged down in their political messages. The problem isn’t that the writer has a political agenda, but rather the agenda is transparent to the reader. Stories are inherently too complex to espouse a single political idea. In the effort to communicate a message clearly, the characters become wooden, the plot becomes predictable, and the story becomes unreadable. That’s not to say that writers shouldn’t have views or try to express them. The essay, a form dedicated to propagating ideas and engaging in discourse, is a much better place for it.
I will admit that there are some great counterexamples. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain are two of my favorite books, and coincidently books that address political issues the writer passionately cares about without simplifying the story to make their message come across.
Next week, I’m going to aim to finish Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson. I’m also still working on The Space Traveler by Ben Grossberg and Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay.
In other news, my magazine, Words Apart came out on Wednesday. If you’ve got some free time, check it out!