Ravishing ... The book, about an immigrant family struggling to make ends meet, delights in mocking the trope of an immigrant family struggling to make ends meet ... There’s peacocking humor, capers, and passages of shuddering eroticism. The book feels thrillingly free ... Escoffery’s protagonists, though resourceful, can’t accomplish the impossible; nor do they sacrifice themselves for the reader’s sentimental education ... The prose comes alive ... These characters are strange amalgams of limited agency and boundless originality. Their survival, perhaps, comes down to their style ... Escoffery deftly renders the disorienting effects of race as they fall, veil-like and hostile, over a world of children ... Throughout, the refrain runs like an incantation: What are you? Escoffery, hosing his characters in a stream of fines, bills, and pay stubs, studies the bleak math of self-determination.
Captivating ... While If I Survive You has a great sense of humor, it reflects little of the joy and pleasure that also define Miami — the food and music and dancing and art and flirtation that make life in the Magic City so thrilling and worthwhile ... Where Escoffery does reflect joy is in the book’s composition. Escoffery’s sentences push boundaries and create a symphony of language — breaking the rules of writing while showing his mastery of them. Each chapter takes on a different style, and readers may sense they were witnessing the emergence of a master stylist ... Still, while “f I Survive You dissects masculinity beautifully, it relegates its women to side characters ... Escoffery doesn’t let his characters off the hook, though ... If I Survive You is a lovely and complicated portrait of masculinity in one Jamaican-American family. Escoffery writes with great care and empathy for his main characters, and in doing so he reveals the richness of feeling that comes with the desire to run away.
The book moves backward and forward in time, immersing us in the muggy Miami atmosphere and the unresolved family tensions ... Given Escoffery’s skill in making me care for these characters, I wished at times that I was caught more forcefully in a current of narrative momentum with them, and some episodes...struck me as less than convincing. But the author is, throughout, a gifted, sure-footed storyteller, with a command of evocative language and perfectly chosen detail.
The best book titles feel wholly different to the reader by the time the book is finished ... It is very much to Jonathan Escoffery’s credit that, after finishing his debut story collection, If I Survive You, I realized how differently I thought of the title phrase ... Short stories, ideally, evoke a heightened sense of attention: crystallized more fully than novels, they allow the breadth of a focused stretch of time, with its layers and textures, to reveal itself. At their best, Escoffery’s stories do this ... But the book suffers a bit from having to let each story feel stand-alone, even as they largely tread the same short span of time. Getting the same backstory sketched out in so many stories, I did wonder whether there was a novel in its bones. But Escoffery also makes a strong argument for the story by virtue of the fun he has inside of it ... In the end, the book tells us — and I almost wished it didn’t — who the 'you' is ... What it also does is promise more from a writer I can’t wait to see making books for a long, long time to come.
Remarkable ... Language shines throughout the collection ... Escoffery masterfully transliterates the dialect ... Only their mother, Sanya, [is] without a dedicated story in the collection. Based on the immense talent on display in this debut, here's hoping that Escoffery's sophomore effort is a whole novel about her.
... it's a special year when a debut breaks out of this distinguished pack and takes an early lead for its originality, heart, wit and sweeping social vision. The debut I'm cheering on is called If I Survive You, by Jonathan Escoffery and the 'you' his characters are trying to survive is America itself ... That's not to say Escoffery's characters are mere victims of Fate, as basic as that storm-stripped house of theirs. They themselves have plenty of agency to hurt, love, betray and simply misunderstand each other ... an extraordinary debut collection, an intensively granular, yet panoramic depiction of what it's like to try to make it — or not — in this kaleidoscopic madhouse of a country.
A blazing success. With a profoundly authentic vision of family dynamics and racism in America, this collection of connected stories explores the young adulthood of a character named Trelawny ... Completely immersive, humorous yet heartbreaking ... Escoffery brings an imaginative, fresh voice to his deep exploration of what it means to be a man, son, brother, father and nonwhite immigrant in America
Escoffery’s collection of interconnected stories confirms his already prize-winning status ... The writing and characters are nuanced, with much pain and trauma but also moments of levity and humor. Trelawny is a wonder, constantly trying to improve himself and yet battered again and again by his own actions, or, more likely, those outside his control, like the ever-present Miami hurricanes.
Sharp and inventive ... If Escoffery’s characters are ambivalent, his writing is clever, commanding, and flexible—he’s comfortable in first and second person, standard English and Jamaican patois, Miami ethnic enclaves and white-bread high rises. And he writes thoughtfully about how the exterior forces that have knocked Trelawny’s family sideways—Hurricane Andrew, poverty, racism—intersect with and stoke interior fears and bouts of self-loathing ... A fine debut that looks at the complexities of cultural identity with humor, savvy, and a rich sense of place.