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 entire section is 3,429 words.)