“Without Inspection”
by Edwidge Danticat
from the May 14, 2018 issue of The New Yorker

After going nearly a decade without publishing a story in The New Yorker, Edwidge Danticat is following up “Sunrise, Sunset” with another after just a few months. “Sunrise, Sunset,” which was published last September, split commenters here (see the post), though those who liked it really enjoyed it. That post also led to comments that “writers of color never seem to do well here,” so I hope folks are mindful of their assumptions and expectations when reading and commenting . . . not that you have to praise the story or withhold judgment if you find it lacking.

I haven’t read “Without Inspection” yet, but I find the opening paragraph quite compelling and timely for some who may be watching children grow up and move on:

It took Arnold six and a half seconds to fall five hundred feet. During that time, an image of his son, Paris, flashed before his eyes: Paris, dressed in his red school-uniform shirt and khakis the day of his kindergarten graduation. That morning, Paris’s mother, Darline, had skipped around the apartment changing dresses, as if she were the one graduating. Closing his eyes tightly as the hot wind he was plunging through battered his face, Arnold saw Paris at the classroom ceremony. He saw himself, too, standing next to Darline, who had finally chosen a billowing sapphire-colored satin dress. He was in the one black suit he wore to everything, to weddings and to funerals.

This detached rendering of a man falling — to his death? — reminds me of one of David Hayden’s “Egress,” which I wrote about here.

I’m excited to see how it is and how it fares in the comments below. I particularly hope that some who never comment feel comfortable and confident to share their views on the story.

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By |2018-05-07T14:51:49-04:00May 7th, 2018|Categories: Edwidge Danticat, New Yorker Fiction|Tags: |9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. David May 8, 2018 at 7:57 am

    This is the third story I have read by Danticat. The first was “Ghosts”, which I liked a lot and the second was “Sunrise, Sunset” which I thought a lot less of. I would place this story in between those two. There is a lot I find interesting in the story, but some problems as well. One of the problems is it feels overstuffed with plot for a short story. We not only get a brief history of how Arnold came to America and met Darlene, but we get all of her backstory complete with a dead husband and a son with difficulties at school. Then we also get some of Arnold’s backstory as an orphan (maybe) raised as a servant in someone else’s house. After a while I wondered why there was so much here and thought it either might indicate that Danticat was not sure what story she wanted to tell so went in many directions hoping something would stick or else she was struggling to communicate the ideas she had about this particular immigrant experience and kept adding more detail by way of plot to try to help explain it. Either way, it was too much.
    .
    The most interesting character in the story is Darlene. Halfway through I wished that the story was being told from her point of view instead of Arnold’s. Her story of surviving the crossing, dealing with the loss of her husband, her son’s problems as a result of it, how she came to be involved in helping rescue others, eventually meeting Arnold who she then loses in a construction site accident makes for a better story. It also minimizes the rather gimmicky idea of the story being what he is thinking during the few seconds he falls to his death. Anyone who participated in Mookse Madness a couple of months ago might remember two stories that were on the lists there, both of which I was reminded of while reading this one. The first is Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” and the second is Cortázar’s “The Island at Noon”. In quality, I’d place this story somewhere in between those two as well.

  2. Doug May 8, 2018 at 11:24 am

    Has anyone tried to listen to these New Yorker stories? I often listen to the writers reading them. I found this one especially good when being read out loud because Danticat reads the Haitian Creole phrases and even sings a line from the song mentioned in the story. I agree a lot was packed into the story. I believe it was meant to mimic time passing quickly. I don’t think the flight was gimmicky. I think the flight part connected African diaspora mythology with the risk of construction work (by an immigrant worker) in the present. This story brought to my mind a short story called “Flight’ by Ralph Ellison. Here is the link to “Without Inspection”, if folks want to listen.

    https://www.newyorker.com/podcast/the-authors-voice/edwidge-danticat-reads-without-inspection

  3. Ken May 12, 2018 at 2:28 am

    I found this a mix of interesting and familiar. The structure, especially the rather impressive first section, of mixing past and present is often well-handled but the narrative of the misery of the immigrant and the impoverishment of many is, despite being moving, not that original and I didn’t feel this added to the diasporic canon.

  4. Doug May 12, 2018 at 7:55 am

    As someone who sees “the misery of the immigrant and the impoverishment of many” up close everyday, especially during this administration when, as recently as last week 300,000 Hondurans were told they were going to be deported, I wish I had the luxury of being tired of these stories. This is where what Trevor mentioned in the introduction comes in. To many of us, stories like this are both moving and necessary.

  5. David May 12, 2018 at 4:00 pm

    Doug, in fairness to Ken, he said the story was not very original, not that he was tired of this type of story. But I would disagree with him because I do find something both original and powerful in the story. As I indicated in my previous comment, I wish that the story had been told from Darline’s point of view. That’s because she is the very original aspect of the story. Here is a woman who has struggled herself to get to the US, risked her own life and that of her son, and lost her husband in the crossing. She has a lot to deal with raising a son alone, a son who has learning difficulties causing conflict with the school, and yet she still takes time to help other people as they arrive on the beach. She knows many will drown before they reach the shore but she goes to face that anyway. She knows that if goes in the water to help them it could be dangerous for her. But she does takes risks to help, as she could be arrested herself for helping these other refugees. Why does she do this? What drives her? If her husband had just gone missing in the crossing then maybe it might suggest that it’s like she holds some futile hope that one day the person who comes to shore will be him. But she knows he is dead. Yet, despite this, she does find her husband swimming to shore – her second husband. And then she loses him as well in the construction site accident. One husband lost in flight from Haiti and another lost in the dangers of the struggle to survive after crossing. I imagine she will continue to return to the beach and continue to help others. In fact, the last sentence of the story says, “He [Arnold] would also try to guide Darline back to the beach, to look for others like him,” but that is presumptuous of him. She did not need him to guide her there originally and she does not need that now. She is more than capable of taking care of her son, herself, and others who need her help. Darline is an original character whose story is one I’m glad Danticat chose to tell.

  6. Ken May 14, 2018 at 1:02 am

    Thank you, David, for your accurate clarification of my position. For the record, my political abhorrence of the man-baby in the White House and his hateful policies is separate from my thought that this particular narrative lacked originality in some ways. I also commented about how impressive the opening section was with its mix of past and present. Altogether this is a pretty good story.

  7. Larry Bone May 19, 2018 at 1:21 pm

    This impressive story very well defines the vulnerabilty and sense of loss one runs up against when trying to escape by sea into a new life. A life they may not be granted because of more likely negative outcomes. I think the story stands very well by itself. It seems a little harsh to second guess how a story should have gone when never privy to all that has gone through the author’s mind while during its construction. All the plot didn’t bother me because to me it was the character’s attempt to make some kind of sense of their life before their consciousness shuts down. A reverse of this could be the similar kind of thing when one tries to make sense of the generated details of a dream before one wakes up. A good short story asks to be lengthened or has embedded within possibilities that could lend themselves to it becoming a novella or longer. If one had a story of 18 or 20 pages, it could have three sections, one for Arnold, one for Darline and one for Paris. Or the point of view of one could switch over to the other to explain more of how something occurred such as the overwhelm in Paris’ mind that took away bits of it and how that might have occurred. Or how Darline arrived at her choice to help those who later washed up onshore. It easily could be a novel although novels are probably never easy. The title is perfect. One never fully understands the circumstances of another needing to escape their bad situation unless one looks at critical parts of their life, which a bureaucrat or agency representative is not really trained or ever very inclined towards doing.

  8. Greg May 21, 2018 at 4:10 pm

    Thank you David, Doug, Ken and Larry for sharing your heartfelt opinions on this timely tale!

    And I especially liked these parts of the story:

    “To be attached to a few things was fine – to Paris and to Darline, who were as much a part of him as his blood was – but he never wanted to be tied to things, to clothes and shoes gathering dust in packed closets, to a fancy car that required hefty payments every month. No, it was simpler to be free.”

    “She kept coming back to the beach because it was her husband’s burial place, and her own. The person she’d been when the three of them, she and her husband and her son, had got on that boat and left Haiti – that person was also lost at sea.”

    “Both seemed to take his answer as a gift he was offering. Suddenly his life meant something. He became a father.”

  9. Zohra May 23, 2018 at 4:28 pm

    I think there’s not much I didn’t like about this haunting story, made more so by hearing it in the author’s monotone voice. The premise of the dying man looking at his life as it flashes past him for the few seconds if his descent and into the concrete mixer is set up so well. I felt for Darlene and Arnold and Paris in equal measures. It’s the first story I’ve heard by Danticat.

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