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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 437

Two settings dominate these stories: the rural Dominican Republic and suburban New Jersey..Both are tough, grim settings, awash in poverty and misery. The stories that contain the most Spanish words and phrases are set in the Dominican Republic. The stories set in the United States contain less Spanish and more English slang terms, creating a sharp narrative contrast between the two environments.

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Although both settings share a defining poverty, and almost all of the families in the stories are desperately poor, the families who live in the Dominican Republic are the poorest, often lacking basic necessities and suffering related health problems. The mother in "Aguantando" is periodically forced to send her children to live with relatives because she cannot afford to feed them. She tries to ease the pain of their situation by telling her children that things could be worse: "We were poor. The only way we could have been poorer was to have lived in the campo or to have been Haitian immigrants, and Mami regularly offered these to us as brutal consolation." Still, the family cannot afford meat or beans, living off of boiled yucca, boiled plantano (plantains), pieces of cheese, and shreds of bacalao (codfish). In "No Face," the younger brother suffers never-healing scabs on his scalp, probably due to malnutrition. Poverty is inescapable for these Dominicans, except possibly through emigration.

Moving to the United States, however, provides only minimal relief from poverty. To the characters in the stories, impoverished suburban New Jersey is the United States, with its "break-apart buildings, the little strips of grass, the piles of garbage around the cans, and the dump, especially the dump," all of which typify the impoverished Dominican neighborhoods where the characters reside. To these young immigrants and children of immigrants, life in the States involves walking along the sides of gritty highways, breaking into abandoned apartments to live for short periods of time, selling illicit drugs to teens at gas stops and public pools, and urinating freely in public.

These characters are aware that there is another New Jersey, another United States, where wealthy Caucasians swim in sterilized swimming pools in their own backyards and hire recent immigrants to clean their rambling kitchens, but this world is so unattainable that it may as well not exist. The narrator in "Edison, New Jersey" explains how last names, which serve as ethnic background identifiers, separate the two worlds of New Jersey: "Pruitt. Most of our customers have names like this, court case names: Wooley, Maynard, Gass, Binder, but the people from my town, our names, you see on convicts or coupled together on boxing cards."

Literary Qualities

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1099

The stories in Drown are fairly short, averaging between fifteen and twenty pages. Only "Negocios" is much longer, at fifty-four pages. Each story is a slice of life, more a presentation of setting, character, and mood than a plot-driven tale. Many of the stories have unclear resolutions.

As Diaz himself admits, much of his work is thinly veiled autobiography. His work is definitely fiction, however, and not to be seen as accurately portraying his own life. His life serves as literary inspiration, but he freely embellishes and changes characters, settings, and events to enhance his storytelling.

Diaz's greatest literary strength is his narrative style. He creates raw prose and uses spare language in an unadorned style similar to reportage. All but two of the stories are in the first-person voice. "No Face" is told in the third person. Its smoothly flowing, dreamlike narrative style sets it apart from the other stories and makes it a story that lends itself especially well to reading aloud:...

(The entire section contains 2384 words.)

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