Chuck's Reviews > Family Installments: Memories of Growing Up Hispanic

Family Installments by Edward Rivera
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Jun 07, 10

Read in May, 2010

Let me begin by saying I wind up thoroughly on the side of this book, but the first fifty pages, I was wondering why on earth I was bothering, and why the heck people seemed excited about this volume. And yes, I know the tales about the trouble Rivera had publishing, and how he stuck to his guns and got published because the publishing industry didn't "get" what he was trying to do.


Much of this book reads like a very promising good but not finished rough draft of a promising young writer. It needs an edit job; I won't be mean by excerpting and commenting, but some of the sentences just flat out hurt . . .it's as if the publisher didn't have a proofreader. They are neither artistically agrammatical, as can happen, nor are they overblown. And there's a lot of material that doesn't work . . . . another draft with a rigorous editor Rivera trusted (if there were anyone he could have relied on at the time) would have made a pretty good book excellent or five starts.

But the payoff is there; the last sixty or seventy pages are as good as memoir/episodic novels get, rivalling, say, Cisnero's House on Mango Street or Anaya's Bless Me, Ultima. This section is stunningly good, especially as the father character continues to wage, and ultimately lose, his war on poverty. The title, Family Installments, shows how he had to live his whole life on the installment plan, making payments he could not afford on the promise of a better time that never materializes.

Glorious, too, are passeges that the Spanish reader will recognize; it's a different novel in Spanish, for so much of the Spanish is funny; there's a comic counternarrative to the very serious English language events. It's masterful.

Mabye, in my eyes, this book suffered from too high expectations. People pointed me toward it with religious fervor in their eyes. . . .perhaps if I had stumbled across it for what it is . . . a very promising first novel and nothing more, I would not have expected so much and been a bit less put off by its flaws. As it is, it's worth reading, but not an OMG, you HAVE to read this.
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