The story is set in two locales—New Jersey and the Dominican Republic. This dual setting captures how the characters always feel out of place. In the Dominican Republic, they witness the most radical extremes of poverty and brutality. One of the side stories of this novel is the political suppression and corruption of the successive dictatorships in the Dominican Republic. Another is the prejudice that these characters face in the United States.
Although the tropical atmosphere and beautiful landscape of the Dominican Republic is presented to the readers, it is offered only in short glimpses. It is as if the characters themselves barely see the beauty because of the hardships experienced by most Dominicans. Though life is somewhat easier in the States, the scenery is that of concrete, highways, and a cold darkness. Neither setting is very comfortable.
To embellish the sense of actually being in the Dominican Republic, or of being included in Dominican culture as it is found in New Jersey, Díaz intersperses Spanish phrases and slang throughout the story.