“Sunrise, Sunset”
by Edwidge Danticat
from the September 18, 2017 issue of The New Yorker

The last time Edwidge Danticat had a short story published in The New Yorker was just before we started covering the magazine’s fiction on this site; on November 24, 2008, her story “Ghosts,” which takes place in a Haitian slum, appeared in the magazine. I remember admiring that story a lot, and it may have been one of the reasons I decided to start covering the magazine in 2009. That said, I don’t recall ever having read anything else by Danticat, though her name is certainly familiar.

In “Sunrise, Sunset,” we first meet Carole, an older woman who grew up knowing, she thinks when comparing her life to her daughter, Jeanne, “real tragedy”:

Growing up in a country ruled by a merciless dictator, Carole watched her neighbors being dragged out of their houses by the dictator’s denim-uniformed henchmen. One of her aunts was beaten almost to death for throwing herself in front of her husband as he was being arrested. Her mother’s only means of survival was cleaning the houses of people who were barely able to pay her.

Carole has since migrated to the United States from Haiti, raising her family under better circumstances. Now, though, a new tragedy is beginning: she is started to lose her memories to dementia at just the time when her Jeanne is beginning her trek into motherhood.

The story moves back and forth between the two, offering their accounts of what’s going on, of the trials they are going through, and how that affects their relationships.

I’m anxious to hear how folks feel about it below! Please feel free to comment on the story or on Danticat in general.

By | 2017-09-11T12:01:37+00:00 September 11th, 2017|Categories: Edwidge Danticat, New Yorker Fiction|Tags: |6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. David September 12, 2017 at 11:52 am

    I had never read anything by Edwidge Danticat before, so on Sunday, when I saw on The New Yorker‘s twitter that this week’s story was by her, I read “Ghosts”. At first I was not sure about that story because it seemed like it might be just a “let me tell you about the place where I am from without really telling a story” story. But then the story kicked in and it was great. It was thoughtful and very well written. So I had high hopes for this new one.
    .
    In the first part of “Sunrise, Sunset” it sounded like just another story about how sad and frustrating and difficult it is when someone has Alzheimer’s – both for the person with it and for those closest to them. But this is not news and the descriptions both from the first and third-person perspectives don’t tell us anything we don’t already know. Danticat layers on top of that another familiar topic, the immigrant parent who had a very difficult life growing up whose kids take their lives for granted and who don’t seem to understand how lucky they are. Again, it’s all old news. But because of the experience I had with “Ghosts” I was optimistic that this one would turn into something more. And then it was over. Really? That’s all? Oh.
    .
    Today I started reading the novel Ties by Domenico Starnone (which has been reviewed here at the Mookse). I loved it from the first sentence (“In case it’s slipped your mind, Dear Sir, let me remind you: I am your wife.”). I am only 10 pages in and it is a phenomenal read. I mention this because the story (so far) is just a wife addressing her husband with her complaints about the fact that he has taken a girlfriend and seems to have completely abandoned her and their children. This too, like “Sunrise, Sunset”, is not exactly a new or original idea. But the writing is so exceptional and wonderful that it elevates it to a completely different level. Dandicat is a good writer, but she is not this good. Her subject is rather sentimental and the emotion she evokes does not really rise to anything more interesting than that. When she has a particularly good and original idea for a story like with “Ghosts”, she can do a lot. But when it is something more familiar like “Sunrise, Sunset” the result is much more mundane.
    .
    One final thought: Dandicat is asked in the interview about the idea of writing from two perspectives in the story: that of the mother and that of the daughter. My recollection is that some parts are also written from the perspective of the son-in-law. I also found the switching of perspectives to be a bit confusing at times, so maybe it just was not clear that there were only the two perspectives. I’m curious whether anyone else was distracted by this problem.

  2. Jerome Harlan September 13, 2017 at 10:08 am

    I enjoyed the story very much. It was quiet but beautiful. It reminds me of Jhumpa Lahiri or Yiyun Li’s stories. The switch in point of view was not confusing to me at all. Stories by women that involve domestic issues are often called sentimental. That never happens when men write similar stories. I think the fact that Danticat can write both this story and Ghosts shows that she is indeed a very good writer, one with incredible range. I can’t wait to read all the stories her new collection.

  3. David September 13, 2017 at 3:51 pm

    Jerome, if you think she has something to say about having Alzheimer’s other than to say that it’s sad, frustrating, and difficult I would be glad to hear it. Danticat is certainly a writer of greater skill dealing with this material than, say, Nicholas Sparks, whose book The Notebook is a novel about someone with Alzheimer’s that is pretty universally regarded as very sentimental (even though he is a male writer), but that does not mean she does anything more than show familiar experiences and describe familiar emotions related to the experience. Yes, it’s sad for Carole and her family that she is suffering from the Long Goodbye, but unless Danticat has more to say than that the story really is just a sentimental one.

  4. Clara Lloyd September 13, 2017 at 6:43 pm

    David, Jerome, every story has already been told. Like Jerome, I like her take. You have your right not to David. I thought the story was layered and sensitive. I have perhaps read more of her work and I am dealing with this in my family right now. It is, in my opinion, a wonderful story.

  5. Dennis Lang September 17, 2017 at 5:04 pm

    I certainly share the sentiment of those deeply moved by this story, written with compassion and understanding.
    Some time ago I read the nonfiction book “How We Die” by Dr. Sherwin Nuland. Among the chapters was one on “losing” a close friend to Alzheimers. They’re gone but still present. It can be harrowing as a loved one slips away, soon an entire life lost and forgotten, and those who care most, impotent to change the course, often unable to face that reality directly.
    The various personalities, the family dynamic with its multiple viewpoints in which this author engages us I found especially powerful.

  6. Ken September 17, 2017 at 5:55 pm

    I thought this was pretty flat and prosaic. After what I’ve considered three good stories (also by women) by Groff, July, and (the more earthbound) Goodman, this seemed so lacking in subtext, so on the nose what with passages like “Her husband doesn’t insist. Throughout their courtship and marriage, he’s never pressured her to do anything.” and so many others that tidily, obviously sum up someone’s personality/mentality are examples of telling when you could be showing. Nothing in this is left to speculation. Even the back stories are (clumsily) sketched in. At times there is an obviousness as when it’s twice mentioned that the more people below the balcony, the greater likelihood that if the baby is dropped someone will catch it. Even the device of dangling the baby seemed rather manipulative, unearned. Obviously, I’m touched by the plight of the character, who wouldn’t be, but that’s not enough.

Leave a Reply