Tuesday, November 25, 2008

New Yorker Fiction: “Ghosts” by Edwidge Dandicat

Edwidge Danticat’s story “Ghosts” in the Nov. 24 edition of the New Yorker focuses on a young man living in Haiti among slums and gangsters. Danticat’s style is more reportage than description. Told in third person, the story avoids delving too deep in the mind of the protagonist, Pascal, or giving us any real description of setting. We are given facts, some thoughts, and little else.

The story does, though, go deep. Pascal, a young man trying to find his way and avoid the lifestyle that surrounds him, falls into the fantasies that trap many of us. Dreaming of hosting his own radio show, he imagines,

It would be controversial at first, but soon people would tune in by the thousands. A kind of sick voyeurism would keep them listening, daily, weekly, monthly, however often he was on. People would rearrange their schedules around it. They wouldn’t be able to stop discussing it.

The fact-based style doesn’t illuminate or excite. The reader may be interested in finding out what happens, but he isn’t captivated. Only near the end does Danticat open the story up some, stepping away from the action, to go deeper, with Pascal again fantasizing about, this time, a new radio program:
He would open with a discussion of how many people in Bel Air had lost limbs. Then he would go from limbs to souls, to the number of people who had lost family—siblings, parents, children—and friends. These were the real ghosts, he would say, the phantom limbs, phantom minds, phantom loves that haunt us, because they were used, then abandoned, because they were desolate, because they were violent, because they were merciless, because they were out of choices, because they did not want to be driven away, because they were poor.

“Ghosts” tells of a life, a world about which I know nothing, which I can hardly understand. It does come close to helping me comprehend the problem.

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