The story came about after Díaz spent a summer working as an interpreter for a U.S.-sponsored dentistry mission in Santo Domingo. The job gave Díaz an opportunity to visit his native Dominican Republic and experience it again from the perspective of someone who has lived for years in the United States. According to Díaz in the “Contributors’ Notes” in The Best American Short Stories 1999, that summer they “pulled . . . five thousand teeth on the trip and . . . rubbed shoulders with many of the country’s elite,” a contrast Díaz sought to capture in a story. After a year of revising the story, Díaz realized that he should delete all references to dentistry and focus more on the dissolution of the relationship between his two main characters. “Once I got that insight,” says Díaz, “I finished the story in a single day, the culmination of sixteen months of work.” This achievement represented something else for the author, however. “I still remember that day. The first piece I’d finished since my book [Drown] was published. My hands were shaking.” The story first appeared in The New Yorker and was later included in the anthology The Best American Short Stories 1999.
“The Sun, the Moon, the Stars” recounts the ways in which Yunior, a proud Dominican male, manages to sabotage his relationship with Magdalena, a woman who seems very much like every man’s ideal. The story progresses from one miscue to another as Yunior attempts to remedy the damage he has caused by having an affair. The couple travels from metropolitan New York to Santo Domingo to celebrate an anniversary, but the vacation, instead of reviving their love for each other, only brings an end to their relationship. Yunior does not think of himself as a bad guy, yet his actions contradict him at every turn. Charming and engaging, he is, nevertheless, his own worst enemy.
“The Sun, the Moon, the Stars” begins with the narrator claiming to be a good person even though he admits to cheating on his girlfriend. “I’m not a bad guy,” he says. He rejects the stereotype of the philandering Dominican male as it applies to him. The narrator continues to rationalize his poor judgment, saying that everyone makes mistakes. He maintains his good character even after he reveals the presence of a letter that confirms his former girlfriend’s opinion of him.
Looking back on his relationship with Magda, the narrator believes that their relationship had begun to improve once he began to express greater interest in her activities. “A nice rhythm we had going,” he says. By then the affair with Cassandra has been over for months, yet the narrator cannot ignore the devastating impact her letter has had on his relationship with Magda and her family. He is now treated as an outcast, whereas he was once regarded as a son. He compares the damage to a “five-train collision.”
The narrator continues to debate whether he should have admitted to the affair with Cassandra. His friends advise him to deny everything, but at the time he is too filled with remorse and too overwhelmed by the sight of Magda’s pain to ignore the truth. “You have to listen to me, Magda. Or you won’t understand,” he begs.
The narrator describes Magda’s physical appearance and personality. “She’s a forgiving soul,” one who attends Mass and asks nuns to pray for distant relatives. He is not the only one who has a high opinion of her, for “[s]he’s the nerd every librarian in town knows, a teacher whose students fall in love with her.” She is thoughtful and generous. “You couldn’t think of anybody worse to screw than Magda,” the narrator concludes.
The narrator then summarizes his attempts to win Magda back. Without shame, he recalls “[t]he begging, the crawling over glass, the crying” he did to convince her not to abandon their relationship. They discuss Cassandra, and the narrator placates Magda’s curiosity by saying that he would have told her about the affair eventually. In the end, the narrator’s love for Magda wins out over his sense of pride, yet that pride is not eliminated completely.
Nevertheless, the narrator senses that a profound change has occurred within Magda. “My Magda was turning into another Magda,” he says. The narrator discovers that his girlfriend is no longer as accommodating as she once was. Rather than view her change in attitude as a result of his infidelity, he blames this change on the influence of her girlfriends, whom he believes are “feeding her a bad line.” Even though he tries to ignore the fallout from the affair, every attempt he makes at reconciliation seems to confirm “something negative” about him. Magda’s changes in attitude become more visible as time passes, bringing about improvements in her physical appearance and wardrobe, improvements that, as the narrator says, “would have alarmed a paranoid nigger.”
The scene changes to summer, and the narrator describes plans for a vacation to Santo Domingo. The vacation is put into doubt because Magda feels pressured to make a commitment which she is unprepared to do. The narrator, on the other hand, believes that a vacation will end the ambiguity and uncertainty that has plagued their relationship since Magda learned of the affair the previous winter. “Me and her on the Island. What couldn’t this cure?” Once again, the narrator blames Magda’s reluctance on her friends’ influence.
The narrator momentarily forgets his worries as he reflects upon his hometown of Santo Domingo and the many things he has missed since he left the Dominican Republic for New York. With tenderness and affection, he recalls the hospitality of his fellow countrymen and the sense of camaraderie that binds them together. He remembers the affection they openly display toward one another.
However, the narrator cannot dwell for long on such memories because he must confront the harsh realities that forced him to leave Santo Domingo for a better life in the United States. “If this was another kind of story, I’d tell you about the sea,” he says. He would like to wax poetic about the beautiful Dominican landscape, but he cannot because that landscape is populated by “[m]ore albinos, more cross-eyed niggers, more tígueres [street children who often resort to stealing and prostitution in order to survive] than you’ll ever see.” The narrator is quickly distracted by thoughts of lovely young Dominican women before he resumes telling the reader about Santo Domingo and the dilapidated vehicles that roam the city’s streets. He describes the shanties where a majority of Santo Domingo’s citizens live, including his grandfather who still does not have running water or a flush toilet. The narrator recalls the place of his birth—Calle XXI (21st Street)—and wonders whether it will remain forever backward or make the strides toward modernity that are long overdue. In the end, the narrator, as confounded as ever by the lack of development in his homeland, says, “Santo Domingo is Santo Domingo. Let’s pretend we all know what goes on there.”
The narrator, whose name is Yunior, continues to believe that his relationship with Magda will be restored to its former level of intimacy if they observe the practices, such as visiting his relatives, that once established them as a couple. This time, however, Magda is bored, and, in what Yunior perceives to be a complete change in character, she tells him so. Yunior makes every attempt to be a good host, pointing out improvements, such as restaurant franchises, that have occurred since his last trip and telling her about some of his nation’s history. Reluctantly, he admits that things are not going well, for Magda, who is normally very talkative, remains quiet throughout their bus trip from Santo Domingo to the country’s interior.
Magda and Yunior continue to express differing opinions about how they should spend their vacation. Magda wants to go to the beach, whereas Yunior would prefer to spend more time in the countryside. Once again, he blames Magda’s girlfriends for his difficulties, yet he manages to control his temper. Finally, he acquiesces and arranges for a bus to take them to the resort town of La Romana ahead of schedule.
Once they arrive in La Romana, the tables turn, as it is now Yunior who becomes bored. His thoughts turn to sex rather than watching HBO. Yunior complains about how infrequently he and Magda have sex and how much more trouble he has seducing her than he did before. Sexual relations between them have become perfunctory, with no spark of passion or romance.
Yunior complains about their accommodations. It is not that the hotel accommodations are inadequate; it is that they are ostentatious and secluded from everything that might detract from the illusion of beauty and splendor. Yunior feels “walled away from everybody else,” particularly the average citizens he has missed. He compares the resort to being in another country where “the only Island Dominicans you’re guaranteed to see are either caked up or changing your sheets.” They are served breakfast “by cheerful women in Aunt Jemima costumes.”
The couple continues to argue over how much time they should spend apart from each other while on vacation. Magda says that she needs some time for herself “maybe once a day,” but Yunior insists that they remain...
(The entire section is 3109 words.)