Constantly surprising, these personal essays explore the attractions and dangers of intimacy and the violence that often arises in close relationships. Deulen’s artful storytelling and dialogue also draw the reader into complicated questions about class, race, and gender.
In “Aperture,” she considers how she has contributed to her autistic brother’s isolation from family and from the world. “Theft” investigates her mother’s romantic stories about conquistadors in the context of the Mexican heritage of her biracial family. Throughout the collection Deulen experiments formally, alternating traditional narrative with “still life” essays and collages that characterize a particular time, place, and sensibility.
Deulen is remarkable in her ability to present her own confusion and culpability, and she also writes with compassion for others, such as her own suicidal and unpredictable father or a boy in her class who sets the teacher’s hair on fire. In part because she herself so poorly fits the identities she might be assigned—white in appearance, she is in fact half Latina; raised in a poor neighborhood, she has acquired an education associated with the middle class—Deulen sees “otherness” as a useless category and the enemy of intimacy, which she embraces despite its risks.
The Riots seeks to create what Frost called “a momentary stay against confusion,” and Deulen investigates her own act of creation even as she uses the craft of writing to put parentheses around the chaos of continuous living.