I’d like to welcome you to a new feature on The Writer’s Scrap Bin that is simply called “Book Reviews”. Here I’ll review a wide range of books, both well-established and little-known. I’m going to start this series with Sandra Cisneros’s Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories.
This collection is divided into three sections: “My Friend Lucy Who Smells Like Corn”, “One Holy Night”, and “There Was a Man, There Was a Woman”. Overall, Cisneros’s stories are gripping, fast-paced, and an engaging read. I worried at first that the heavy influence of the Latinx culture would cause me, being as ignorant as I can be, to become lost. However, I found that this influence made the stories even more intriguing and added a special flair which homogeneously white American stories can’t achieve.
The first section was not my favorite. The seven stories in this section focus on children, are very short–only a few pages long–and are very quick reads. Still, I had to re-read some of these stories multiple times in order to understand them, particularly “My Friend Lucy Who Smells Like Corn”. That fact in and of itself does not detract from their quality. I just didn’t feel as emotionally connected with these stories as I did with the others.
The three stories from the other sections which most piqued my interest are “One Holy Night”, “Never Marry a Mexican”, and “Woman Hollering Creek”.
Trigger Warning: The story I am about to discuss may contain triggers for victims of child molestation.
The collection caught my attention fully with the story “One Holy Night”. The content is rather sensitive and may be a trigger for some of my readers, and so I will not go into too many details about it. I will say that Cisneros takes an often uncomfortable topic and explores the psychological and emotional complexities experienced by the young girl at the center of the events. This character, rather than being a typical damsel-in-distress suffering from trauma, finds new wisdom inside her because of these experiences, wisdom which she is quick to point out that the other young girls don’t yet have. She is simultaneously an adult and a child–much like her love interest’s name, “Boy Baby”–living events and hardships that should be reserved for adults and yet showing that she’s so young that she thinks herself more of an adult than she truly is. I found myself sympathizing with her not only because of the loss of her innocence and the rough road ahead but also because she felt “love,” what she called “love,” with a man who deceived her and had her heart shattered long before she should have. She was young and naive but Cisneros still made me feel for her as a woman.
“Never Marry a Mexican” follows the story of a Mexican woman and her affair with a married white man. I usually dislike stories about cheating spouses, even when told from the “other woman’s” perspective. Cisneros, however, managed to shape Clemencia into a sympathetic, albeit somewhat crazy, character. Following strained relationships with her own parents, Clemencia finds ways to gain control in her relationship not just with Drew but with his wife (who seems oblivious to the affair) and their son. She’s certainly not your traditional woman nor the traditional “other woman,” which is what allows me to enjoy this story. It’s not about a woman falling in love with a married man; it’s about a woman trying to regain control of her life, to feel powerful for once.
Trigger Warning: The story I am about to discuss may contain triggers for victims of domestic violence.
The title story for this collection, “Woman Hollering Creek”, has stuck with me long after my Master’s program finished discussing Cisneros. One reason may be the topic. This story, once again, addresses a sensitive topic. Unfortunately, unlike “One Holy Night”, I don’t think I can review this story properly without mentioning the topic. The main character, Cleofilas, comes from Mexico to Seguin, Texas, as a new bride. Cisneros quickly picks apart the patriarchal fantasies of marriage which Cleofilas is exposed to in her telenovelas and reveals the gritty reality of living with an abusive husband. Cisneros paints a clear image of Cleofilas’s suffering but, at the same time, the violence itself does not hijack the narrative. Instead, Cleofilas’s struggle with her marriage and escaping it are the heart of this narrative.
The most interesting aspect of the story, surprisingly, is the woman who drives Cleofilas to the bus depot, Felice. Felice is crude, strong, and independent; some critics have argued that she’s a stereotypical butch lesbian, but I see her as an unconventional woman who knows what she wants and what will empower her. Her scream over the bridge, called “La Gritona”, leads to Cleofilas’s own empowering laugh, “a long ribbon of laughter, like water” (Cisneros 56). Felice shows Cleofilas a side of womanhood separate from what society has forced her into all her life. Felice’s brief appearance in this story gives it a real punch, turning a story about an abused wife running back to her father into one about female solidarity and regaining control from men who wish to oppress them.
Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories contains a wide range of plots, narrative voices, narrative structures, and characters (although most are female). At the center of it all, though, is a Latinx pulse, a feeling of strength, and a complex understanding of human interactions. I was only able to thoroughly review three stories here but I highly recommend reading all of the stories to discover a new view of the world.