Everything Inside by Edwidge Danticat
In Everything Inside, with movement comes creation: characters go from Haiti, to Miami, to New York City, and back, building families and love. Like Danticat’s other works, the Haitian diaspora is the continuing theme in Everything Inside, but here the impact of immigration is the focus instead of the actual act of immigration, such as in previous works like Krik? Krak!. Upon reading Everything Inside, I struggled with some of its more quiet plot points, but I realized that day-to-day living is significant to this collection because it gives a complete picture of Haitian-American life. Everything Inside gives us the stories of the children of Haitian-Americans, of Haitian-Americans striving to make it in America. These experiences are of ingenuity, isolated loneliness, and everyday beauty. The roles of women, flaws included, especially shine. A decorated master of her craft, Danticat’s stories unfold with suspense and spare, evocative language.
Not all is quiet in these stories. “Without Inspection” is told as a man slips off of a scaffold, and, as he falls, remembers moments of his tender, fatalistic relationship with another Haitian immigrant and her son. “Dosas” is about betrayal in a love triangle of a husband, wife, and best friend who are “untwinned, lonely, alone together.”
Two college freshmen roommates find friendship and understanding in “Hot-Air Balloons.” Neah is a privileged American and Lucy is a Haitian-American who grew up traveling the U.S. with her migrant farmer parents. Neah volunteers at a rape recovery clinic in Haiti during her Thanksgiving break, a shattering experience. As a teen, Lucy has a traumatic experience that shapes her as well: while driving her family near the fields, Lucy accidentally hits a dog, and rather than saving it, the family must keep going, fearing for their own lives. Lucy defines herself as the woman who will always be looking for “a safe harbor,” and Neah is “too easily swayed by other people’s stories.” The two friends attempt to interpret their pain, find purpose and direction, and obtain an understanding of the self.
“Sunrise, Sunset” is a remarkable story about dementia and raising children that delicately shows a strained mother-daughter relationship. The daughter’s identity is in upheaval upon the arrival of her son, and the mother struggles with caring for her grandson while living with dementia. Because the mother, Carole, lived in oppression in Haiti, she raised her daughter, Jeanne, with such protection that Jeanne cannot cope with sadness. Part unlabeled postpartum depression and part generational differences, Jeanne relies on others to care for her infant son whereas Carole had to take care of her children, no matter what. The story culminates with a harrowing event where all lives are changed, like the heaviness and dimming of a sunset. This story is also about what can be lost from one generation to the next: “How do you become a good mother?” Jeanne wonders but is unable to ask.
Artistically, Everything Inside functions better as a whole than if the strength of each story is considered individually. Collectively, these are portraits of lives in their multiplicity. Some yearn to return to Haiti, and some do not; some stumble easily into love, and others struggle. Characters are connected across stories by symbols of flight and the impact of their Haitian heritage. This collection showcases what it’s like for Haitian immigrants to begin again, and what they build inside–with foibles, resilience, and hope.