Criticism & Features

Year 2019: 30 Books

Everything Inside by Edwidge Danticat: 2019 Fiction finalist

By Michael Schaub

Everything Inside: Stories by Edwidge Danticat (Knopf)

Edwidge Danticat has been one of America’s most vital authors of fiction since the publication of her first novel, Breath, Eyes, Memory, in 1994. In her work, she’s explored themes including family, loss and identity with sensitivity and subtlety, crafting characters who always seem real, sometimes painfully so.

She continues that trend in Everything Inside, a gorgeous short story collection that puts on display her keen insight into the needs and desires of people forced to reckon with difficult circumstances.

The eight stories in this book explore lives upended by loss. “In the Old Days” focuses on a teacher, Nadia, who travels to Miami to visit her dying father, whom she’s never actually met. Danticat beautifully examines how it feels to lose something you’ve never really had — she portrays Nadia’s loss in a heartbreakingly realistic way, never resorting to pathos or sentimentality.

In “The Port-au-Prince Marriage Special,” Danticat follows Mélisande, a Haitian nanny in her early twenties who learns that she’s dying of AIDS. Her mother reacts to her diagnosis with a cruelty that masks her concern, and a doctor that she sees for treatment turns out to be a quack who prescribes her placebos. The story’s ending is harsh but lifelike; Danticat doesn’t shy away from the cruelty of everyday life.

The book’s standout story, “Sunrise, Sunset,” tells the story of Carole, a woman suffering from dementia, and her daughter, Jeanne, who’s dealing with postpartum depression after the birth of her child. Danticat expertly portrays the fraught relationship between the two, and ends with a powerful, and stunningly sad, moment of reckoning.

Every story in this collection showcases Danticat’s empathy and love for her characters, which never gets in the way of her commitment to realism — there are no forced happy endings, no unearned deliverances. The world, she seems to say, is unrelentingly harsh, which makes the rare moments of joy her characters experience all the more precious. Everything Inside is a stunning book, the best of Danticat’s remarkable career, and one of the best short story collections to be published in America in recent years.

— Michael Schaub