Gwen Zepeda's novel HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEMA is bound to be pushed into some pretty narrow genre categories -- latina chick lit, perhaps -- which i...moreGwen Zepeda's novel HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEMA is bound to be pushed into some pretty narrow genre categories -- latina chick lit, perhaps -- which is a pity, because Zepeda has written an engaging and fun work that transcends its regional and cultural environment and is quite simply a well-written and entertaining piece of work.
Jessica Luna is a single twentysomething standing on the edge of change. She finds herself confronting the prospects of changing jobs while at the same time hurtling towards decisions that must be made in her dating life, romantic choices that seem to mirror her career in flux. She jockeys for promotion at an insurance company job that she finds unfulfilling even as she dreams of a career in the art world. At the same time, she teeters between Jonathan, the successful Anglo executive who represents safety but also a step away from her passion and her culture, and the temperamental artist Guillermo, who frustrates her with his unreliability even as he haunts her on a visceral, emotional level. Jessica's superstitious nature leads her to consult Madame Hortensia, a pragmatic fortune teller whose guidance mostly serves to turn her gaze inward. Jessica Luna will find her own answers, if only she can learn to trust her heart.
HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEMA reads like good solid chick lit, but Zepeda delves into topics of race and family dysfunction that give the novel an unexpected depth. It does so, however, with subtlety and humor, and most of all with nuanced, believable characters. This isn't a book I would have naturally gravitated to, mostly because of the genre, but to have missed out on this charming story would have been a real pity. I've been aware of Gwen Zepeda's writing for a while, but with HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEMA, she now has my undivided attention.(less)
In "Loose Girl", Kerry Cohen has written a memoir of startling clarity and unblinking honesty. So often, memoir has proven to be a vehicle for prosely...moreIn "Loose Girl", Kerry Cohen has written a memoir of startling clarity and unblinking honesty. So often, memoir has proven to be a vehicle for proselytization or even vindication, but Cohen resists the temptation to assign blame or explain away the personal impulses that drove her to reckless behaviors and a pattern of promiscuity and heartbreak. Instead she is straightforward and clear, exploring her own weaknesses and her dysfunctional quest for love and intimacy through unrewarding physical relationships.
Cohen's writing style is engaging and intimate. She writes about her sexual encounters with a real sense of presence, and when she falls into familiar patterns of behavior, the reader shares her stumbles with genuine pain. Parts of "Loose Girl" can be difficult to read, in the very best ways that a memoir can challenge a reader, and Cohen doesn't sugarcoat her experiences or attempt to explain away her behaviors.
In her memoir, Kerry Cohen displays an addictive personality, but she also possesses keen self-awareness and a burning (and often heartbreaking) commitment to change. "This time will be different," she seems to say, over and over, and it is on the strength of her writing that we hope right along with her every time. The pain that she feels when old patterns reassert themselves becomes visceral.
The book ends not with false epiphany or some kind of phony life change, but rather with a quiet sense of hopefulness and the feeling, perhaps no more than a whispered and fragile promise, that even the most broken of us can find happiness and perhaps even a measure of peace. "Loose Girl" is ultimately a story of quiet personal redemption, and I recommend it without reservation.(less)
I wanted to like this book, and by and large I did. I think this novel tries to be equal parts homage, parody and social commentary, and it's in that...moreI wanted to like this book, and by and large I did. I think this novel tries to be equal parts homage, parody and social commentary, and it's in that last capacity that it stumbles. This miscalculation weakens what is otherwise a very entertaining and original sendup of the monster movie genre.(less)
In HER LAST DEATH, Susanna Sonnenberg achieves what I believe the very best memoirs can accomplish. She paints a vivid, living picture, not just of a...moreIn HER LAST DEATH, Susanna Sonnenberg achieves what I believe the very best memoirs can accomplish. She paints a vivid, living picture, not just of a life but of her relationship with her manic but unbalanced mother, and she does so with prejudice and personal perspective. Memoir is not autobiography; at its very best, the genre tells us not the facts and objective observation of the events. Memoir takes us into the heart of the author's experience, and it is its very subjectivity that gives it power. HER LAST DEATH brings the reader into Sonnenberg's internal world, a tumultuous place where both a mother's love and her sanity are always in question.
Sonnenberg doesn't flinch from the light when it comes to examining her own stumbles and weaknesses, and when an understanding of her troubled mother's psyche eludes her, as it often does, the author doesn't engage in conjecture or armchair psychoanalysis. Instead, she allows us to experience this inexplicable world with her, and in the end, we are left not so much with a sense of who her mysterious mother might have been, but rather whom the author has ultimately become.
In the course of facing a difficult past and its ramifications for her future, Susanna Sonnenberg has shown herself to be an extremely talented writer, and I eagerly await more from her.(less)