by Liz Prato
young authors are so eager to shake off signs of their youth that
they go too far the opposite direction. They try to be edgy and
bleak, and their language gets too big for their stories. Cristina
Henríquez avoids these pitfalls with simple, evocative
language and everyday characters who, despite all circumstances,
maintain a sense of hope. The stories in Come Together, Fall
Apart center around the fairly un-extraordinary lives of
Panamanians: teenagers coming of age, young women working in
appliance stores, men who can’t commit. What the characters
is their desire for connection: to each other, and to their changing
language is rarely fancy, which is not to say lacking grace. Her
characters are everyday people with everyday language, but her poetic
economy illustrates this doesn’t mean shallow or uninspired.
“Memories are thin, watery and fragile like gas rising off
pavement on the hottest days,” she writes in Ashes, the
story of a young woman reeling from her mother’s death and
Henríquez’s characters dip into fantasy, then the
lifts up. In Drive,
the narrator describes a dream where her
car transforms into a giant bird: “. . . and we are flying
gulls, steady, just above the glossy surface of the pavement.
Everyone is laughing bubbles and confetti and the wind laces its
fingers through our hair and streams it back and we can’t
cool air against our faces because it is so gentle that it cannot be
striking about this passage — aside from its dreamy realism
the consistent use of “we.” Even in the
narrator’s vision of
freedom, she is not alone. Freedom and connection are not
antithetical, but inextricably linked. This is most evident in Mercury, as an
American teenager visits her grandparents while
her parents divorce back home. She wants desperately to speak
Spanish with her grandparents, but finds her grandfather seriously
ill and secluded from her. Her attempts to communicate represent not
just her need for connection within her family, but also a desire to
connect to her Panamanian heritage.
title novella is the story of a teenage boy in love, set against the
backdrop of the 1989 U.S. invasion of Panama. The scene setting is
successful, helping readers visualize what it might mean to come of
age in a warzone. Unfortunately, Henríquez’s
writing is at
its loosest and least grounded in the novella, ditching economy and
sometimes abandoning her characters’ emotional danger for a
does a fine job in not stereotyping the men in the lives of her
female protagonists. Yes, there are men who are shifty and shiftless,
but there are also fathers and boyfriends full of love and
imagination. Yet even when they are good men, there is something
weightless about them. Mothers provide the anchor in this world, no
matter how far the mother-daughter relationship is stretched.
they navigate love and war and grief and growing up, all of
Henríquez’s characters manage to find hope through
power within them. Perhaps that optimistic view seems young or
but these beautiful stories read more like lessons in life.
a massage therapist in Portland, Oregon. Her fiction and essays have
appeared, or are forthcoming in numerous reviews and magazines,
including Iron Horse Literary Review, Subtropics,
ZYZZYVA, Massage and Bodywork Magazine, Gertrude,
Juked. She’s currently working on a novel about
sexual identity, and the cosmos.
Hardback & paperback
Henríquez’s stories have been published
in The New
Yorker, Glimmer Train, Ploughshares,
and AGNI. She earned her undergraduate degree from
Northwestern University and is a graduate of the Iowa Writers'
Workshop. She lives with her husband in Chicago.
with Cristina Henriquez
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