According to the Q&A with Daniel Alarcón, this is an outtake from a novel the author is working on, but it seems to work as a story. I like Alarcón’s work, and this story is no exception. The title gives us the story’s theme: second lives. The narrator’s parents were in school in the US when their son Francisco was born, but they had to return their country, where the situation was tolerable for some time but then deteriorated. Because Francisco had a US passport, they could send him the States, which they did when he was 18 and their lives were steadily getting worse.
Meanwhile the neighbors are going through a change—the husband has an affair and leaves, which embitters the wife—and the narrator’s parents work at getting permission to emigrate to America. And the narrator, whose name is Nelson, lives a sort of imaginary life as his brother travels across the US.
The story works thematically. What’s most appealing, though, is Nelson—a typical boy who is struggling to learn how the world works by observing the people around him—the neighbor and their affair, his parents and their political struggles, his brother and his letters from America. All of which contributes to the man he’s going to become—his own second life.
August 16 & 23: “Second Lives” by Daniel Alarcón