- The Lasting Impact of Fleeting Encounters in Évelyne Trouillot’s Short Fiction
How well an author is known beyond the borders of her country depends on several factors such as the language(s) in which she/he writes, the availability of their work in translation, the genres they favor, whether or not she/he is self-published, etc. In an international literary sphere that privileges the novel above all else, writers producing poems, plays, short stories, and other forms are often neglected. Or, if they happen to also be novelists, their novels are foregrounded as though they represent the entirety of their oeuvre. In this special volume that aims to bring more attention to Évelyne Trouillot’s literary production, it is especially important that her short stories are included. Trouillot entered the world of professional fiction as a short story writer (La Chambre Interdite) and her short story production has not faltered since she began writing novels.1 She has published four short story collections, and individual stories regularly appear in various anthologies as well as on websites.
As is the case for her other texts, Trouillot explores a variety of themes in her short stories. Among them we find the stark juxtaposition of very distinct socioeconomic classes in fleeting moments of intimacy. The two stories I analyze here, “Primal needs” and “The Detour,” illustrate this practice.2 Both demonstrate the connections between various sectors of Haitian society as well as the ways in which they impact each other even when members of certain classes would like to maintain the pretense of distance. (Trouillot also takes up this theme in other genres, such as the novel Le Rond-Point, for example).3 The fact that Trouillot constructs these narratives by alternating perspectives between the main characters emphasizes that the story of one class cannot be told without telling that of others. [End Page 11]
The two nameless main characters in “Primal Needs” hail from two very distinct classes. One is a teenage boy who attends an exclusive private school and is passionate about painting, although his father would prefer he abandon art to focus on becoming an architectural engineer; the other is a young woman working as a maid in the house across the street. She is always hungry and has a young son who lives in the countryside with her mother. Before the earthquake that will thrust them together, these two people are peripherally aware of each other, yet do not interact. However, the earthquake not only displaces the ground and houses; it tears down the invisible-yet-solid separations between social classes, if only briefly.
The young maid happened to be in the kitchen at the teenager’s house when the earthquake struck and the two of them are trapped together beneath the rubble. After several hours during which they try to make themselves more comfortable, sleep, and manage to find food, they have sex. It is important to note that the woman does not work for the young man’s parents. Trouillot thus avoids the dynamic wherein males of the house take advantage of young female domestic workers. Indeed, when the kitchen first collapses around them, the teenager touches the woman’s body, including her breasts, to “confirm that she was very much alive.” In response, “she pushed his hand away.” Trouillot thus establishes that the woman is able to deny access to her body. Of course, that is not to say that inequalities are completely absent from the brief relationship between the two characters. The young man is economically privileged and multiple avenues for the future are open to him, in spite of his father’s preferences. While the young woman is recognized as an adult (she is twenty-two years old), capable of making her own choices, those do remain limited within the context of the story. It remains possible that she feels obliged to submit to the young man’s advances. At the same time, the fact that the teenager’s age is never explicitly stated means that he might be a minor.
After several hours, when the teenager turns toward the woman, her “breast moved closer and pressed...