In the 1970s, Topper and Sanya flee to Miami as political violence consumes their native Kingston. But America, as the couple and their two children learn, is far from the promised land. Excluded from society as Black immigrants, the family pushes on through Hurricane Andrew and later the 2008 recession, living in a house so cursed that the pet fish launches itself out of its own tank rather than stay. But even as things fall apart, the family remains motivated, often to its own detriment, by what their younger son, Trelawny, calls “the exquisite, racking compulsion to survive.”
Masterfully constructed with heart and humor, the linked stories in Jonathan Escoffery’s If I Survive You center on Trelawny as he struggles to carve out a place for himself amid financial disaster, racism, and flat-out bad luck. After a fight with Topper–himself reckoning with his failures as a parent and his longing for Jamaica–Trelawny claws his way out of homelessness through a series of odd, often hilarious jobs. Meanwhile, his brother, Delano, attempts a disastrous cash grab to get his kids back, and his cousin, Cukie, looks for a father who doesn’t want to be found. As each character searches for a foothold, they never forget the profound danger of climbing without a safety net.
Pulsing with vibrant lyricism and inimitable style, sly commentary and contagious laughter, Escoffery’s debut unravels what it means to be in between homes and cultures in a world at the mercy of capitalism and whiteness. With If I Survive You, Escoffery announces himself as a prodigious storyteller in a class of his own, a chronicler of American life at its most gruesome and hopeful.
Author Jonathan Escoffery on the craft of writing linked short stories:
“Well, I see myself as a story writer, and that’s just the best thing ever. I wanted to write these stories and give readers these interconnected worlds where they didn’t have to start over someplace between story #1 and story #3. In a sense, then, you’re not starting off fresh with each story, but you’re instead getting deeper into the worlds of these characters. That was the thing that was most important to me, and as long as we’re really enjoying the ride along with these characters, and as long as things are building and you’re learning more about them, then that gives me the chance to take readers along to pretty much the end of their connected stories.”