How to Leave Hialeah
In real life, I have had only a small glimpse of Miami, driving through on the way to the Florida Keys. After reading Jennine Capó Crucet’s story collection How to Leave Hialeah, I feel I have witnessed Miami life on the most intimate levels.
This debut story collection won the 2009 Iowa Short Fiction Award and was a finalist for the thirty-fourth Annual Chicano/Latino Literary Prize. The eleven stories, one of which is set in Cuba, are about characters who could be part of one big, extended family in Miami’s Cuban American community. With narrators and protagonists ranging in age from childhood to retirement, Capó Crucet demonstrates her ability to write in a believable voice for a variety of characters.
While Capó Crucet has brought to life a particular community, the themes in her stories translate across cultures: love and loss, familial and marital relationships, desire for success, the generation gap. Finding a balance between independence and familial obligations has a central place, and one narrator describes his family as being “like the heat in a car you’ve left parked in the sun.”
The stories deal with ordinary, painful struggles such as facing illness and making ends meet; the soap opera dramas of family resentments and grudges; and the challenges of transmitting values and culture to the next generation. Moments of beauty are sprinkled throughout, in the kindnesses shown to one another and the small, physical pleasures of daily life. My favorite story was "The Next Move," about a man whose wife had gone home to Cuba for a visit, and how he coped with a glimpse of life without her. This old man’s voice was so clear, vivid evidence of Capó Crucet’s gift for listening to real voices and transforming them into print.
Even when the stories have bizarre and outlandish plot devices, the results are fantastic. A couple of times I had to realize that what seemed odd to me would not to another reader (and vice versa), depending on life experience. (For example, the opening story has a young woman go from a dance club to church, and while at first surprising, that seemed reasonable to me.) I look forward to Capó Crucet’s next book, and will check her website regularly in the hopes of seeing information about new stories published.