Reviewed by Lindsay Denninger -

How to Leave Hialeah by Jennine Capó Crucet

    Stories
    University of Iowa Press - September 2009
    ISBN: 1587298163, 184 pages, $16 (softcover)


Hialeah is a section of Greater Miami unknown to anyone who is not a resident of South Florida. Predominantly Hispanic (and home to the largest Cuban-American population within the United States), it is representative of the real Miami: no South Beach clubbing, no million-dollar yachts, no Star Island. Jennine Capó Crucet grew up in this neighborhood, and her debut collection of short stories and the winner of the John Simmons Award in Short Fiction from the University of Iowa Press, entitled How to Leave Hialeah, chronicles the sights, sounds, and sometimes, smells of her home community.

The book opens with "Resurrection, or: The Story behind the Failure of the 2003 Radio Salsa 98.1 Semi-Annual Cuban and/or Puerto Rican Heritage Festival." Jesenia, a young radio-station intern, has just returned, possibly still inebriated, from a raucous night out. She stops in a church and explains to a nun (as well as a santera) that she needs to resurrect salsa great Celia Cruz from the dead in order to save her job at the radio station. The darkly funny and absurd "El Destino Hauling" portrays a Cuban funeral through the eyes of a young girl. Theatric, disorderly, and loud, Crucet's depiction of the all-night affair demonstrates what she does best: poking slight fun at the traditions and rituals of her culture without turning it into slapstick.

"And In the Morning, Work" is the only story of the collection that takes place in Cuba. Published in The Summerset Review's Spring 2009 issue—the story of a woman who reads aloud to workers in a cigar factory, it feels a bit disjointed from the rest of the works in How to Leave Hialeah, but is at the same time essential to understanding the themes of "home" and "away" as demonstrated in the collection.

Crucet's characters continue to face the ultimate immigrant question: How does one make a new and different place, though only some ninety miles away from what is considered the motherland, feel like home? She artfully details the ultimate struggle within the Cuban psyche: the pride in their rich heritage but the realization that a great deal of the painful past must be let go. After all, there was a reason behind the mass migration to the United States. Crucet's stories portray everyday life and heartbreak in a way that is not specific to the Hispanic community. What works in How to Leave Hialeah is not only the poignancy and humor in Crucet's storytelling, but the themes of love, freedom, identity, and family that extend to humans no matter their location, religion, or language.