The Collection, The Poor Parent

Edwige Danticat’s work has always impressed me, whether it be in the form of the novel (like her fine The Farming of Bones) or short stories (Krik? Krak!). So I’ve been following the reviews generated by her new book, The Dew Breaker. I’m amused at the general confusion about whether it is a short-story collection or a novel. Knopf has it listed as a novel in its introductory page, but follow the link and you’ll notice that the publisher is rather ambiguous about it, calling it a work of fiction. Then there are the reviews. Consider these excerpts (emphasis mine):

New York Times Sunday Book review by Richard Eder

The final and title story of ”The Dew Breaker,” Danticat’s new collection, makes a more direct approach to horror. Set in the 1960’s during the reign of Francois Duvalier, it recounts, dry-mouthed, the hours spent by a Tonton Macoute (one of Duvalier’s murderous agents) as he waits in his car for a dissident preacher to arrive at church.

New York Times review by Michiko Kakutani

Haiti’s bloody and bitter history of violence, corruption and vengeance stalks all the characters in Edwidge Danticat’s remarkable new novel, infecting their dreams and circumscribing their expectations. It is a nightmare they are all trying in vain to rewind and erase.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel review by Ana Caban

From his right cheek down to his mouth, Ka’s father has a blunt, rope-like scar – a reminder of his time in a Haitian prison. But her image of the prisoner father is shattered when he reveals that he “was the hunter, he was not the prey.”
With that confession, Edwidge Danticat opens what at first seems to be a disjointed collage of Haitians living in New York. But with these vignettes, “The Dew Breaker” draws us deeper into Haiti’s wounds as it weaves connections between the hunter and his prey.

San Francisco Chronicle review by Kate Washington

At the heart of her new book, which straddles the ever- thinner line between short-story collection and novel, is a family of three.

Times Picayune review by Kevin Rabalais

Expect to see and hear much more about Danticat, author of three previous works of fiction and a slim work of nonfiction (“After the Dance: A Walk Through Carnival in Jacmel, Haiti”) with the appearance of her latest novel, “The Dew Breaker.” Though it isn’t billed as such, “The Dew Breaker” may best be described as a novel-in-stories. It is comprised of nine stories, or chapters, more than half of which were previously published.

All of this leads me to wonder whether the label of short-story collection has become something that people want to avoid at all costs. But, given the right push, a good collection can sell, whether it’s by seasoned veterans (like Alice Munro’s Hateship, which now has 160,000 copies in print) or by relative newcomers (like Adam Haslett’s You Are Not A Stranger Here.) So why are people so worried about calling it a collection?