cover image When Trying to Return Home: Stories

When Trying to Return Home: Stories

Jennifer Maritza McCauley. Counterpoint, $27 (272p) ISBN 978-1-64009-568-7

McCauley’s explosive debut collection crackles with moments of honesty, upheaval, and longing among families. In “Torsion,” Black Pittsburgh college student Claudia hews to an unwavering love for her volatile single mother, a hair technician who struggled to support Claudia and her younger brother Sam, who is now in foster care and needs dialysis for his renal failure. In Claudia’s loyalty, she allows her mother to convince her to help take Sam from his white foster mother, so the family can be reunited. In “Trying to Return Home,” Andra constantly faces questions from white people about her ethnic background and takes to answering with a mix of vagueness and specificity. At her new job in south Florida, she says her father is “Black American; her mami Cagus-born, mixed with several Something Elses.” As she mourns her deceased mother, who neglected to fill her in on their family tree, McCauley offers an illuminating view of the complexity of Andra’s private life. “La Espera” features multiple points of view on a messy family situation, with sisters Elena and Camila and Elena’s husband, Carlos, the father of Camila’s 12-year-old twin daughters. In a poignant scene, the girls are dressed in bright dresses while waiting at their house in Puerto Rico for Carlos to visit them from New York City, where he lives with Elena (“Let’s impress him with your loveliness,” Camila tells them). Each story is a treasure. (Feb.)