Another gift from my buddy Fil, and another hit! Fil says he hasn’t read this one yet, himself, and I say to him and to all of you: hurry up and read this slim but powerful book! My 25th anniversary edition includes an introduction entitled “A House of My Own” by Cisneros, which was gold; do find an edition with this intro, because it’s wonderful. I would say it was my favorite part of the book but I can’t relegate any other part to less-than-favorite.
So first, the introduction. (A bell rang for me as I opened this book, as I was reading A Room of One’s Own simultaneously.) Cisneros describes a former self, the woman pictured on the opening page, a young woman living in her own apartment in Chicago, after graduate school, working to become a writer. It’s a really lovely essay all on its own, describing some of the challenges that faced a young Latina writer and looking at that former self through her older, wiser eyes. It was beautiful. I cried a little, not because anything was too terribly sad (okay, there was that one bit), but because it was so well-done. And it served as a beautiful introduction, as it introduces the young woman who composed the short stories, the episodes, the anecdotes that make up The House on Mango Street, not yet knowing that they would become a book. Rather, she was working on her MFA thesis in poetry, so those fiction fragments (or “little-little stories”) were extracurricular, failed to fit into a known body of work. But oh, the book that they became…
The House on Mango Street is a collection of short stories, and I mean short – the longest run to 3-4 pages, most 1-2, some just a paragraph long. As a whole, they follow Esperanza (the narrator) through the first year of life at the first home her parents own, on Mango Street. It is not the home they aspired to and Esperanza doesn’t like it very much. She has a lot in common with Cisneros – the city, the time, and the ethnic background; but I know from “A House of My Own” that Esperanza is really a combination of Cisneros’s students, people she’s known and people she’s made up, and herself. There is a coming-of-age element, as well as a theme of home – what makes a home, what a person need from her home.
The stories are entrancing. The style is great, is dynamic; it’s both poetic and conversational. It’s not formal; sometimes a sentence runs on until it loses track of itself, but I’ve come away with the strong impression that every word was carefully chosen and exactly in its place. The economy of language reminded me of Hemingway, although I don’t suppose Cisneros gets compared to him very often, and I don’t mean to say that they’re very similar. Rather, they both seem to have very carefully created what looks like simple language but turns out to be poetry. (There is of course always the danger that I see Hemingway everywhere because I’m crazy about his work.)
The subject matter is mostly mundane and ordinary (a young girl’s life and disillusions, her disappointment that she has to wear old shoes with a new dress to a party) but also serious, weighty, and sad (because such things happen to a young girl, too). I only knew Sandra Cisernos by reputation before I picked up this book; that will have to change, because she’s amazing. It’s only about 100 pages long (including the introduction), a super-easy read, and so powerful. No excuse! Go get yourself a copy.