By Jonathan Escoffery
Reviewed, 7 June 2022
Escoffery’s new collection of short stories fit together as neatly as a novel. “In Flux,” the collection’s opening piece gives the author’s answer to the peculiarly American question, “What are you?” As a nation obsessed with lineage, we’ve all considered mail-order DNA kits and websites promising to reveal our connections to royalty. We’re familiar with playground questions about ancestry. When Escoffery’s character, Trelawny, faces blunt identity questions, he examines that overwhelming American trait, assimilation.
These eight stories combine to form a picture of a Jamaican family in transition. As they gain a foothold in Florida, the needs of extended family and wishes to return to simpler times pull them back to their roots. Between biting winters at a northern university and sunny Jamaican beaches, the youngest son, Trelawny, finds an uncomfortable middle ground in his hometown, Miami. But misfortune hounds the family. Hurricanes, unpredictable income, and secrets from the past batter them as they struggle to stay connected. Underneath it lies a cracked foundation, a cherished house sinking.
It’s hard to avoid phrases like, “powerhouse short stories,” and “dazzling debut.” Each story enlightens the rest, making the collection a perfect balance of tenderness and grit, hope, and despair. Escoffery’s dark humor rings throughout, hip and down-to-earth. Defiant in the face of adversity, Trelawny wills himself through hard times. Even in despair, the faded American dream calls. There must still be a way to realize it. If there isn’t, he’ll make one.
Thanks to Net Galley for an Advance Reader’s Copy of this title. If I Survive You launches, September 2022.