Daniel Alarcon, “Second Lives,” August 16/23:
I really liked this story, in which a family that immigrated to the States has to return to their country, but eventually sends one of their sons back once he’s 18 because he still has a U.S. passport. The other brother, the one left behind, tells the story of how his brother communicates with the family only through increasingly-rare letters and eventually seems to almost fade from memory entirely. The details observed by the young narrator are fascinating and real—a weird neighbor loses her husband and flips out at the boy’s mother, his parents struggle to deal with their country’s political turmoil, and all the while, he remains jealous of his brother, feeling left behind.
Alarcon makes us feel for the brother without being too overt or sappy about it. The boy expresses his heartache matter-of-factly: “People talk a lot these days about virtual reality, second lives, digital avatars. It’s a concept I’m fully conversant with… I spent my adolescence preparing for and eventually giving myself over to an imagined life.” This story is really well done, though it starts slow.