Derek Palacio’s “Sugarcane”
“He tried telling Eduardo that many sicknesses could be frailties of the mind. He’d explained the little white capsules with a false name, Diocyclin, which he gave out to the ambiguously ill. He even broke one in front of the boy to show him how it was just water inside.”
Once more, I’ve tapped into the stories anthologized in the 2013 edition of The O. Henry Prize Stories, again (Kelly Link’s was the first), to show my affection for Derek Palacio’s story “Sugarcane” which does a great job of showcasing how writing can be done well.
So a little background info on Palacio: he’s the co-director, with Claire Vaye Watkins!, of the Mojave School, a free creative writing workshop for teenagers in rural Nevada and his debut novel, The Mortifications, is coming out later this year!
Palacio’s story does a great job of putting its focus on the complex character that is Armando, the town’s doctor. He is a man, who despite his important service to the community, is “not privileged beyond his standard cup of sugar”, a commodity that is given once a week and thus, of high value and importance in the story.
Living in Cuba and under communist rule, Armando also lives under a government that makes no distinction in his profession, despite being trained as a surgeon, or in giving him a just reward as a means of compensation. Palacio makes great use of flashbacks to speak on Armando as a teacher and his teacher-student relationship with Eduardo, the boy who ends up interning with him in hopes of going to university and becoming a surgeon. I’ll hold my tongue on the rest of the plot so definitely check it out!
P.S. I was looking around the internet for any mentions of this story and ran into a great “writing craft and literary criticism website” called Great Writers Steal. Check them out as well! There’s a great post on Palacio’s story that further explores what to look forward to in the story and more importantly, what one can “steal” to become a better writer! #WriteOn