I love waking up to things like this:
1. Two glowing reviews of When the de la Cruz Family Danced:
The first, from Josie E. Davis at Plop!
When the De La Cruz Family Danced is a breathtaking portrayal of acceptance, longing, and loss – as one family learns forgiveness with each other and with the past. In thoughtful prose, debut novelist Donna Miscolta interlocks the smallest and most delicate stories and phrases with the upmost affection; she is attentive to dialogue as if composing a waltz, “I came to take you dancing, Tessie.” A seductive sound pulling the reader onto every page.
Set within a Filipino suburb of the California-Mexico border, the book opens with a month long journey to the Philippines in which Johnny de la Cruz finds himself face to face with the grown-up beauty queen of Little Manila, Bunny Piña. Nearly twenty years later, we encounter Bunny’s only son, Winston, on the doorstep of the de la Cruz home.
“On Monday afternoon, Winston arrived at the de la Cruz residence exactly on time … Even through the screen door, he recognized Tessie. She was dressed in white slacks and an aqua short-sleeved blouse that, though becoming, made Winston think of the synthetic color of the Beachcomber pool.”
Miscolta is as skilled in her writing as she is full of surprises. From gambling to the box step and Filipino beauty queens, When the De La Cruz Family Danced makes me laugh and cry when I least expect it. By the end of the book I am as much a part of the De La Cruz family as Johnny de la Cruz himself. It takes incredible tact and skill to bring together such a diverse array of characters and Miscolta does this with impeccable flair. “In the living room, Laura sat in her father’s chair and tried to imagine where he might have gone … Sara, alone in the kitchen, stood on the chair and lifted the clock from it’s place on the wall, leaving it’s bright yellow shape against the grimier hue.” Or perhaps, one of my personal favorites, “Josie disposed of the last of the dogshit.”
While this is the first novel for Miscolta she is a refined author of short fiction including the collected works, Natalie Wood’s Fake Puerto Rican Accent. Her striking ability to generate prose with what appears to be such marvelous fluidity and ease is what makes the De La Cruz Family feel – like family. When the De La Cruz Family Danced is a simple treasure. Miscolta is a guide into a world I never thought possible or even imagined. Lifting us as might a partner onto the dance floor, her sentences are smooth and remembered – yet each dance is never the same. “Tessie had never dared walk in late to dance class before, but this was her real therapy. She was determined to participate even though in her sneakers and sweat pants she was in sore violation of the class dress code…sweat rose off the dancers and mixed with Armida’s perfume and hairspray … this was the smell of the dance …” What makes this book so refreshing is the humor, joys, blessings, and adventure portrayed alongside more adverse hardships such as illness, aging, and loss of life.
“Johnny knew that both of them were watching his every wobbly step. He did feel a little unsteady in the breeze, but the gentle gusts also made him feel unfettered.” Miscolta invites the reader into a beautifully composed and emotional world of Johnny de la Cruz, his wife, daughters, lovers, and friends. Her writing is timeless, capturing the charisma and aspirations of one family’s hardships and growth, silences, burdens and desires. Just by reading this book I become a part of this family, invited and experiencing the history and future of what is possible and what is left behind.
And the second, from Malcolm R. Campbell at his blog Malcolm’s Round Table:
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The slice-of-life scenes in Donna Miscolta’s tightly written “When the de la Cruz Family Danced” create an elegant portrait of a Southern California family suspended between its first and second generation Filipino origins, its “Little Manila” neighborhood and the outside world, and between familial cohesiveness and individual freedom. As the novel begins, the family is mired in a stasis that has crept uninvited into its home through the dynamics of time, illness, aging and lack of attention.
Also uninvited, a young man named Winston comes into their home because he believes he might be Johnny de la Cruz’s unacknowledged—and perhaps, unknown—son. Nineteen years earlier, Johnny made his only return trip to the Philippines to visit his family. While there, he had an unplanned sexual encounter with an old flame. Since they never spoke again, Johnny didn’t know Bunny Piña subsequently separated from her husband and moved to California with her son Winston. Winston didn’t know about the de la Cruz family until he found an un-mailed letter to Johnny hidden among his mother’s mementos when she died.
Lost after his mother’s death, Winston wants to know more about Johnny even though he cannot articulate exactly why. He wonders whether Bunny meant to mail the letter and simply forgot it or whether she chose to remain silent. The sentiments include “since you so gallantly made your escape from my couch that afternoon” and “we each had our reasons for what happened.” Does this suggest that Johnny is Winston’s biological father? While Winston isn’t sure, he wants to get to the heart of the secret Bunny never shared.
When he finds Johnny dying of cancer and the rest of the family suspicious of his motives for appearing on its doorstep, Winston simply says he’s Bunny’s son. He says he didn’t know if Johnny heard that Bunny moved to the U.S. or that she had recently died. At this point, readers might expect Winston to leave after suffering through a few days of the de la Cruz family’s polite but disinterested company or that he will produce the letter and ask, “Johnny, are you my father?”
Instead, Miscolta carefully inserts Johnny into the family’s life. None of them are quite sure why he’s still there, but he’s nice enough. He helps Tessie look after Johnny, partly by keeping him company. While the slice-of-life details about family life, shown from the viewpoints of each of the family members, do slow down the development of the plot, they paradoxically add great depth to the novel and to the reader’s understanding of the family itself.
Miscolta has created poignant story about a family (with secrets) that very much needs to find itself within the multicultural world of Southern California. The story revolves around one dual question: will Winston come and go and soon be forgotten or will he be the catalyst for something more long term and meaningful? All of the characters step close and then step away from that question like awkward beginners at a club who haven’t yet learned how to dance.
“When the de la Cruz Family Danced” is a highly recommended waltz of well-crafted prose and endearing characters.
Thanks, Josie and Malcolm!
2. The somewhat belated launch party for A Pornography of Grief: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=145232012220824