By Josie E. Davis
When the De La Cruz Family Danced is a breathtaking portrayal of longing and loss as one family learns acceptance with each other and with the past. In thoughtful prose, debut novelist Donna Miscolta interlocks the smallest and most delicate stories and phrases with the upmost affection; she is attentive to dialogue as if composing a waltz, “I came to take you dancing, Tessie.” A seductive rhythm pulling the reader onto every page.
Set within a Filipino suburb of the California-Mexico border, the book opens with a month long journey to the Philippines in which Johnny de la Cruz finds himself face to face with the grown-up beauty queen of Little Manila, Bunny Piña. Nearly twenty years later, we encounter Bunny’s only son, Winston, on the doorstep of the de la Cruz home.
“On Monday afternoon, Winston arrived at the de la Cruz residence exactly on time … Even through the screen door, he recognized Tessie. She was dressed in white slacks and an aqua short-sleeved blouse that, though becoming, made Winston think of the synthetic color of the Beachcomber pool.”
Miscolta is as skilled in her writing as she is full of surprises. From gambling to the box step and Filipino beauty queens, When the De La Cruz Family Danced makes me laugh and cry when I least expect it. By the end of the book I am as much a part of the De La Cruz family as Johnny de la Cruz himself. It takes incredible tact and skill to bring together such a diverse array of characters and Miscolta does this with impeccable flair.
“In the living room, Laura sat in her father’s chair and tried to imagine where he might have gone … Sara, alone in the kitchen, stood on the chair and lifted the clock from its place on the wall, leaving its bright yellow shape against the grimier hue.” Or perhaps, one of my personal favorites, “Josie disposed of the last of the dogshit.”
While this is the first novel for Miscolta she is a refined author of short fiction including the collected works, Natalie Wood’s Fake Puerto Rican Accent. Her striking ability to generate prose with what appears to be such marvelous fluidity and ease is what makes the De La Cruz Family feel – like family. When the De La Cruz Family Danced is a simple treasure. Miscolta is a guide into a world I never thought possible or even imagined. Lifting us like a partner onto the dance floor, her sentences are smooth and remembered – yet each dance is never the same. “Tessie had never dared walk in late to dance class before, but this was her real therapy. She was determined to participate even though in her sneakers and sweat pants she was in sore violation of the class dress code…sweat rose off the dancers and mixed with Armida’s perfume and hairspray … this was the smell of the dance …” What makes this book so refreshing is the humor, joys, blessings, and adventure portrayed alongside more adverse hardships such as illness, aging, and loss of life.
“Johnny knew that both of them were watching his every wobbly step. He did feel a little unsteady in the breeze, but the gentle gusts also made him feel unfettered.” Miscolta invites the reader into a beautifully composed and emotional world of Johnny de la Cruz, his wife, daughters, lovers, and friends. Her writing is timeless, capturing the charisma and aspirations of one family’s hardships and growth, silences, burdens and desires. Just by reading this book I become a part of this family, experiencing the history and future of what is possible and what is left behind.
When the De La Cruz Family Danced by Donna Miscolta