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Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.)

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Portuguese, Fiction, Short Fiction, Immigrant Narratives, Family Sagas, Family Narratives



From Ruins to Ruin is a family saga told as a collection of linked short stories, not in chronological order. When Gonçalo and Beatrice meet near their respective hometowns in Portugal, they are driven by impulse and romanticism. The collision of these characters proves to be less than romantic. Beatrice feels trapped by her overprotective parents and is looking for an opportunity to leave, but Gonçalo is not the ticket she’d hoped for. Hardened by an early life of loss, loneliness, and poverty, Gonçalo is cruel and abusive. From Ruins to Ruin is an exploration of the way pain and suffering, when left to fester, are inherited by our children. Beatrice and Gonçalo’s three children each absorb the hostility their parents displayed towards each other and themselves: Raquel struggles to love her body, Olivia struggles in abusive relationships, and CJ struggles handling relationships with women in his life.

Their individual conflicts are, of course, informed by their experience as first-generation children growing up in America, the same way their parents’ conflicts were influenced by their own respective upbringings. From Ruins to Ruin is still missing several perspectives that I have begun working on. I plan to include stories exploring Beatrice’s parents, siblings, and extended family, which further inform Beatrice’s character as well as her children’s. The environment that shaped each character—time period, location, political climate—informs each character’s story, which led to my decision to format this narrative as a collection of short stories.

The inspiration for this collection began in 2016, when I noticed that our country’s increasing embrasure of the far-right had not only removed the inhibitions of the most bigoted people in the United States, but also begun to inform the way the students I tutored at my undergraduate university’s writing center understood and reacted to the world around them. Those in positions of power embraced this normalization, and often times used the fascist rhetoric of “family values” to defend their hatred. It reminded me, horrifyingly, of the rhetoric shared by people half a decade older than me (my sister’s classmates), who were old enough to have their worldviews informed by the toxic post-9/11 atmosphere.

Both sides of my family immigrated to the United States from Portugal, but at different moments. My own parents were only young children by the time António de Oliveira Salazar was no longer Prime Minister, but those who raised them early in their lives were influenced by his motto: “Deus, Pátria, e Família,” or “God, Fatherland, and Family.” While my mother’s parents believed primarily in supporting their community, and therefore felt supported in return by their neighbors during hard times, my father’s experience in his early life was not as fortunate. His family was as isolated and insular as they were unkind, and without a warm support system to turn to, he became bitter and resentful. Much of this translated into his treatment of the women in his life—his mother, his grandmother, and ultimately his wife.

When we lack social safety nets and a larger community to rely on, we internalize any potential hatred, hostility, and mistreatment as normal, and often that translates to inherited trauma. From Ruins to Ruin is not necessarily based on true events, but it is inspired by this small trend in inherited familial traits. Tracing the roots of what makes a person (their inability to forgive, their quickness to anger, their tendency to accept mistreatment) has always fascinated me. I purposely wanted to write a collection of linked short stories rather than a novel to allow individual focus on each character when I felt it was needed. While this collection is currently incomplete, and mainly includes one half of the family tree, I felt that giving these characters their own space and own story was important. My hope is that each of these stories can stand alone, but that reading them as a collection further informs the reader’s understanding of the characters.

My decision to write this family saga in short stories stems, too, from my belief that most people experience their own lives as a series of vignettes. As I worked on this collection and interviewed family members to gather details that would texturize it, I found myself drawn to create characters that both frustrated me and demanded sympathy—or at least understanding. In his essay “On Defamiliarization,” Charles Baxter writes about the importance of recognizing ourselves in character who are ultimately different from us:

Defamiliarization is finally more about the way in which we recognize ourselves in an action and simultaneously see someone we don’t recognize… Recognition is re-cognitions: not finding ourselves when we expected to be but where we did not expect to be found, and at a moment when our defenses are down. (38)

While the characters in this collection are deeply flawed, I hoped readers could see themselves in the mistakes they make. My desire to explore these characters was, ultimately, an investigation into understanding not only myself, but the self in general. I believe fiction is a great tool to understand people we otherwise thought different from ourselves. I don’t think this necessarily requires us to forgive or like these sorts of people, but knowing them feels more conducive to crafting a better world that we hope to live in.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Available for download on Thursday, May 13, 2027