When the de La Cruz Family Danced by Donna Miscolta is a great read exploring family and relationships. The opening takes place in 1971 with Johnny de la Cruz having a brief affair with Bunny who was Miss Sampaguita in 1946. I love how Miscolta recreates Manila, imbuing it with a sense of milieu that makes it feel so palpably real and hot.
“Johnny and his father sat quietly in the shade on the narrow slab of patio, the emotion of their meeting that first day absent, as if it had evaporated in the head. Behind them, an electric fan rotated with a steady murmur, a backdrop to their conversation, intermittent as the buzz of mosquitoes. Despite the fan, a layer of sweat sealed his clothes to his body…”
There’s a rhythm to her prose that weaves its way throughout the whole book and creates a vivid sense of place that anchors the whole book, like music to which you dance. That random act of passion has ramifications later on as the book then jumps ahead to 1990. We get to the main conflict in the book which revolves around Winston Pina, the son resulting from that brief affair. Winston discovers a letter that reveals his real father was Cruz (not directly, though it raises questions). Much of the humor, tension, and drama comes about from the way Winston interacts with the de la Cruz family. The characters are funny and memorable, and the writing is beautiful as she creates a living family with all its quirks. I loved the prose and one of my favorite parts is:
“Whenever Johnny considered that hot, stifling afternoon with Bunny on her couch in that unlikely room in Manila, his eyes ached at the memory and his stomach fluttered with guilt. At the infidelity to Tess, yes. But there was something else: the insult to Bunny… He walked out into the daylight on the busy Manila Street with its odors of disel, dust, frying oil, and sickly sweet candies. Beneath the hot blinding colors of sky, and amid buildings painted cheaply yellow and orange, he felt disoriented and alone in a country he no longer belonged to.”
Reading Miscolta’s book will be like attending a ball and you’ll find yourself dancing to the de la Cruz tunes, fox trotting and square dancing and swinging to steps you’ll find all too familiar.