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.