Ayiti by Roxane Gay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
maybe even 4.5?
I ordered this one from Amazon:
I’ve been a Roxane (with one N!) Gay fan ever since I discovered her. She goes to see All the Movies and writes the most amazing posts about them. Ayiti is her first book.
“Ayiti” is the pronunciation of Haiti in Haitian Creole. So these are stories of and about Haiti, Haitians, and the Haitian diaspora. Roxane’s parents immigrated from Haiti (to the US) and they still spend part of their time there.
Ayiti is a collection of short fiction and nonfiction. Some of the stories are flash length, some longer. At just over 100 pages, it isn’t a long book, but it is a powerful one. Her writing style is at once matter-of-fact and layered with sensory detail. It has a deceptively simple look, I think. There’s so much buried in it once you start digging.
My mother always told me: back away slowly from crazy people; they are everywhere.
“Voodoo Child” (21)
The story I thought was the standout of the collection was “Things I Know About Fairy Tales,” about a woman who is kidnapped for ransom. I think this was the favorite of a lot of readers and is the one she’s expanding into a novel. Rather than telling you how strong this story is, I will show you:
What you cannot possibly know about kidnapping until it happens to you is the sheer boredom of being kept mostly alone, in a small, stifling room. You start to welcome the occasional interruption that comes with a meal or a bottle of water or a drunken captor climbing atop you to transact some pleasure against your will. You hate yourself for it, but you crave the stranger’s unwanted touch because the fight left in you is a reminder that you haven’t been broken. You haven’t been broken.
“Things I Know About Fairy Tales” (38)
I could keep picking out bits that I liked, but let’s just say: it’s all good. This is an intense book. Perhaps it’s good that it’s short because you can only hold your breath for so long.
For accompanying musical atmosphere, check out Roxane’s Book Notes at Largehearted Boy.
P.S. In “All Things Being Relative” she compares Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with Haiti. Which reminded me, one of the reasons I first noticed her, even before I’d read much of her writing, was that she went to Michigan Tech. Back whenever that was, she was still a doctoral student there. Michigan Tech is my dad’s alma mater. When I was a kid, he’d get these alumni mailouts, advertising their youth summer programs. One of them was a writing camp. Oh, how I wanted to go to that. I was always way too chicken to ask, though I honestly don’t know what answer I was more afraid of: yes or no. Both, maybe. Anyway, whenever she mentions the Upper Peninsula, it always reminds me that if different roads had been taken, that’s where I might have ended up.