Book Review: Woman Hollering Creek by Sandra Cisneros

Woman Hollering Creek by Sandra Cisneros is a collection of short stories.  Ranging in length from vignettes to novellas, they all focus on characters studies and the relationships between people.  The collection of short stories is divided into three sections.  Each section has a different theme, but put together they try to model many different elements of life.

I.  “My Lucy Friend Who Smells Like Corn”

The first section of the collection is about childhood.  The short stories, all vignettes, in this section are written from the voice of a child.  In the first story, she is very young, and she gets older as the stories progress.  These stories are all tinged with nostalgia and memory of early childhood perceptions of things.  Two of the stories in particular caught my attention:  “Eleven” and “Salvador Late or Early.”

“Eleven” is about the concept of growing up and what that means.  The skillful crafting of the language is very much something that brings me back to Cisneros’s writing, and the opening of this short story is one of my favorite pieces of writing by her.

“What they don’t understand about birthdays and what they never tell you is that when you’re eleven, you’re also ten, and nine, and eight, and seven, and six, and five, and four, and three, and two, and one.  And when you wake up on your eleventh birthday you expect to feel eleven, but you don’t.  You open your eyes and everything’s just the same, only it’s today.  And you don’t feel eleven at all.  You feel like you’re still ten.  And you are–underneath the year that makes you eleven.” — Sandra Cisneros (“Eleven”, Woman Hollering Creek)

“Salvador Late or Early” is a very brief character sketch, but it paints a very vivid image of the life of a character in only a few pages.

II.  “One Holy Night”

This section focuses on teenagers and the cusp of life between childhood and adulthood.  There are only two stories in this section:  “One Holy Night” and “My Tocaya.”  Neither of these stories struck me nearly as strongly as the stories in the childhood section.  They are interesting though and add to the collection as a whole.

III.  “There Was A Man, There Was A Woman”

The third and final section, also by far the longest, focuses on adulthood and relationships.  Many of the stories are vignettes, conversations, or just brief snapshots of life.  Some of them are beautiful or heart wrenching.  All of them manage to capture a moment in vibrant detail.  A few of these stories managed to catch my attention far more strongly than the others though.

“Woman Hollering Creek,” the titular story of the collection, is the first story in this section.  It focuses on a woman from Mexico who was married very young to a Mexican man living in Texas.  It is a story of feelings of helplessness, domestic abuse, and the escape from that and reclaiming of the self.  It is a powerful story with powerful imagery, and it opens well into the rest of the section.

“Eyes of Zapata” was one of my favorite stories in the entire collection.  Imbued with a heavy dose of magical realism, the narrative focuses on memories and is told non-linearly to create a narrative of a country torn by revolution and political upheaval through the eyes of a “witch” about her relationship and her children.  The imagery throughout this story is incredible, and if I had to pick just one story from the collection, this would probably be it.

“Little Miracles, Kept Promises” is written as a series of letters to saints, expressing wishes or thanking the saint for a wish fulfilled.  The final letter of the string of letters is far and away the most powerful.  It deals with a woman facing her heritage and how she comes to terms with it while also claiming herself as her own person with her own needs and desires.  The writing is evocative, and her letter reminds me of so many of the other stories throughout the collection.

The last two stories in the collection are tied to each other.  “Tin Tan Tan” is a short acrostic prose poem to a woman named Lupita by her former lover.  It is full of vulnerability and seems very genuine, but it is able to be seen in a much more satirical light when viewed through the lens of the story that follows it.  “Bien Pretty” is the story of the relationship and how it ended through the eyes of Lupe, the woman that the poem is about.  It focuses on her personal journey and growth and how she comes out of it with a new appreciation and connection to herself.  Love in this story, like in many of the stories in the collection, is not a kind experience, but it does help Lupe grow and change.  These two stories together could make for an interesting discussion of unreliable narrators.

Reading Level:  Ranges from late elementary up for some stories, to late high school up for others.

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Book Review: The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

I read Sandra Cisneros’s novel The House on Mango Street for the first time when I was in middle school.  It was a class assignment for extra credit.  Most of my classmates didn’t read it, not wanting to spend extra time on even a short book when there was other stuff they could be doing.  I didn’t need the extra credit, but it was book I’d never seen before, which was always exciting for me because at this point, I had read everything in the elementary and middle school libraries, most of it twice, and the entire children’s and young adult section at the public library.  I was making pretty good headway on the adult section too.

 

At the time, I was struck by the beautiful words of The House on Mango Street, and I felt a certain kinship with the displaced feelings of the narrator.  She came from a different world, a different background than I did, but she seemed lost among the people around her a lot of the time, and that resonated with me.  Now, over a decade later, when I picked the book up again, I didn’t remember much of it, except a few lines here and there, scattered across the book.  I was happy as I found each one rereading the book.

 

As a more experienced reader, Cisneros’s novel is possibly even more impressive.  The small vignettes that she weaves together to form a story in The House on Mango Street leave the reader with a great scope to imagine what is going on.  Much is left unsaid, but there is so much there in the little details of the story.  The novel reads like oral literature, and as I read it again, I could hear it, and remembered the same sensation, echoing back from myself in middle school.  I always hear when I read, but this book is especially well suited to the way my brain processes the written word.  I hear it in the voice of an experienced, skillful storyteller, and it is captivating.

 

I wish that my middle school class that read this book had made it required for the entire class, so that maybe I could have talked about it with someone.  The teacher nodded and gave me a good grade on my essay for the book, and he never talked to me about it again.  I was the only one in the class who read it.

 

I will definitely be coming back to this novel again, and I’m definitely going to go in search of anything else from Cisneros.

 

Reading Level:  Middle school and up

Themes:  Coming of age narrative, experimental writing styles (vignettes, mosaic novel), personal identity