Junot Diaz is probably best known for his first novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, but Drown, released in 1996, is well worth a look. In tales that explore the barrios of the Dominican Republic and the rougher parts of New Jersey, Diaz creates a paradoxical world where ugliness and beauty lie awkwardly together, where characters are the walking semi conscious, half drunk from the kick of drugs, alcohol, and unreliable relationships.
Fiesta, 1980 starts with a family drive to an aunt's house. The children Yunior and Rafa sit in the back while the parents drive. Yunior is petrified; he is often sick in cars and his father has promised to beat him should he be sick again.
The father is cheating on his wife with a Puerto Rican woman, and often takes the boys with him in the van. At the party Yunior watches his mother in the crowd, unable to process his parent's seeming compatibility when combined with his father's philandering ways. By story's end, the stray parts (infidelity, Yunior's sickness, brother Rafa's predisposition to the female of the species) all combine to create a geographically alien but emotionally familiar tale of adult contradiction as seen through a child's eyes.
Why It Sticks
Junot Diaz makes a familiar tale original by a shifting in both tone and perspective. By placing the father's infidelity within a family setting, it seems just as repugnant and yet strangely ordinary. His father's cheating is not an escape, a masterful act of deceit or a catastrophe that reshapes the family's world. The narrator Yunior would rather it wasn't happening, but what is really destroying him is the duplicity that such infidelity requires, and the knowledge that his mother, who whether aware of the cheating or not, will have died a little by the end of this foolish game.