The best that you can do Stories

Amina Gautier, 1977-

Book - 2024

"Primarily told from the perspective of women and children in the Northeast who are tethered to fathers and families in Puerto Rico, these stories explore the cultural confusion of being one person in two places - of having a mother who wants your father and his language to stay on his island but sends you there because you need to know your family. Loudly and joyfully filled with Cousins, Aunts, Grandparents, and budding romances, these stories are saturated in summer nostalgia, and place readers at the center of the table to enjoy family traditions and holidays: the resplendent and universal language of survival for displaced or broken families"--

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Short stories
New York : Soft Skull 2024.
Main Author
Amina Gautier, 1977- (author)
First Soft Skull edition
Physical Description
227 pages ; 21 cm
Contents unavailable.
Review by Booklist Review

Gautier's fourth short-story collection, winner of the Soft Skull-Kimbilio Publishing Prize, the latest of her many awards, follows characters mining their bicultural identities and connections to others, including some at the intersection of Black and Puerto Rican experiences. In "Making a Way," a mother in Brooklyn in 1968 prepares to send her three young children to Puerto Rico for the summer to visit their father, who abruptly moved there years ago, but he only provides plane tickets for their two sons, leaving her to scrounge for a third ticket for their daughter. In other tales set during the 1970s and 1980s, characters young and old grapple with family, heritage, and relationships within the social and cultural currents of the time. A lunch between former classmates captures different perspectives on the complexities of human connections in "So Good to See You." The present and the past collide in linked tales following the course of home care for an elderly woman. Varying in length and focus, Gautier's stories pry open characters' inner motives and the effects of displacements with precision and compassion.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

The protagonists of this powerful and cohesive collection of vignettes from Gautier (The Loss of All Lost Things) grapple with the civil rights era's legacy of violence and unfulfilled promise. The 14-year-old narrator of "Quarter Rican" misses her home in Brooklyn during a visit to Puerto Rico, where her uncle insults her mixed ancestry. "Making a Way," set in 1968, looks mournfully at the deaths of prominent civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. The next generation is portrayed starkly in "Thankful Chinese," which describes how a family regularly chows down on takeout while watching The Cosby Show, which presents a healthier and more ordered life than the one they're resigned to ("We slip the fortunes from their cookies, then toss them without reading; we already know our future"). "Breathe," set in an unspecified time, blends imagery from 1960s civil rights crackdowns with allusions to modern-day police killings of Black people, successfully collapsing past and present. In it, a woman attends an academic conference and participates in a "die-in" between panels to protest police killings of Black people, reflecting on her relative safety compared to protesters who march on the street. Often, the characters' emotions feel like the sharp tips of an iceberg, but in "Howl," about a woman who calls her mother after a breakup and wails despondently in a "Wolf" language, those feelings come messily to the surface. Gautier's flashes of familial angst and political commentary ignite each entry. This packs a stinging punch. (Jan.)

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

Cultural loss, romantic disappointment, sexism, sexual violence, and the cost of racism are examined in close to five dozen stories told through the eyes of Black and Puerto Rican characters. The biracial children in the stories in the first section, "Quarter Rican," are all pursuing their Puerto Rican heritage: by sneaking behind their mother's back to learn Spanish, searching for Puerto Rican faces on TV reruns, or scouring the neighborhood for old men who might be their grandfathers. What they don't know is how much their Black grandmother struggled after her Puerto Rican husband abandoned her, returning to the island and starting a new family. Told from a constellation of points of view, these stories, many of which are no longer than five or six pages, accumulate emotional force and capture the complexity of families and generational divides. Gautier is a master of the short-short story (often referred to as sudden fiction). Pieces like "My Mother Wins an Oxygen Tank at the Casino, or, My Mother Makes an Exception" and "Forgive Me" evoke the fierce love of daughters for their mothers in just two pages, and "Summer Says" swiftly captures summer's pleasures in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn: "All summer we have the days to ourselves, the neighborhood to ourselves, and the streets are ours for the taking," the children announce. "Each morning we are few, but by afternoon we are legion." Sometimes, brevity does a disservice to Gautier's subject matter, especially when she's writing about women's disillusionment with men. In "So Good To See You," for example, a woman goes on a quasi-date with an old high school friend who spills gravy on his tie and thinks he's a "good catch" just by virtue of not being in jail. This and a handful of other stories strike a single note and move on. Still, Gautier has a real gift for finding dignity and bravery in the lives of ordinary women. The collection's final stories focus on Mrs. McAllister, an aging woman whose commitment to her family, especially her dead sister, may move you to tears. A collection with so many important stories that some of the less successful ones could have been left out. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.