“Drinking Coffee Elsewhere” by ZZ Packer is a story that embraces the voice of its narrator and uses it to push the story from beginning to end. It takes place at Yale and starts out with hokey orientation activities. Each student chooses a metaphor, something they want to be, and why they want to be that object. The narrator says, “My name is Dina, and if I had to be any object, I guess I’d be a revolver.” Dina is black, and this comment doesn’t go over well with the mostly white student body. She’s sent to see the Dean, then has to see a councilor for the rest of the year.
What’s great about this story is how real Dina feels. Her attitude, her thoughts, her reactions all seem genuine. As the story progresses, Dina, meets another outcast and they form a friendship that grows into some form of love. Identity takes on a larger role in the story. Instead of just black and white, we now have straight and gay thrown into the mix. Has Dina stopped pretending in the beginning of the story with her comment, or has she been pretending all along? The story hinges from this paragraph, and shows us more of Dina.
“I heard him, but only vaguely. I’d hooked on to that one word, pretending. What Dr. Raeburn would never understand was that pretending was what had got me this far. I remembered the morning of my mother’s funeral. I’d been given milk to settle my stomach; I’d pretended it was coffee. I imagined I was drinking coffee elsewhere. Some Arabic-speaking country where the thick coffee served in little cups was so strong it could keep you awake for days. Some Arabic country where I’d sit in a tented café and be more than happy to don a veil.”
“Drinking Coffee Elsewhere” is a carefully wrought story that’s been crafted in a way to read as seamlessly as possible.