In Angie Cruz’s new novel, the soul of a Latino group

On the Shelf

How To not Drown in a Glass of Water

By Angie Cruz
Flatiron: 208 pages, $28

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I don’t know the typical variety of remedy classes a brand new consumer would wish to inform her full life story, however Cara Romero will do it in 12. Make that 11. And it’s not remedy — or it’s not presupposed to be.

It’s 2009 and Ms. Romero, a 56-year-old Dominican immigrant in Washington Heights, is aware of a chance when she sees one. The Senior Workforce Program in New York Metropolis pays prolonged unemployment advantages to anybody keen to attend 12 classes of job coaching — 4 complete months of aid!

“Please write that down: Cara Romero wants to work,” she explains to the counselor. However first, she asks, is it OK if I seize one in every of your free bottles of water? Sure? Sure. “Does it taste strange to you?” Earlier than lengthy she’s occurring about her previous work buddy, Lulu, who is 2 years youthful, although you wouldn’t comprehend it. “Her skin is like a penny,” Ms. Romero says. “Not a brilliant penny, more like an old penny.”

“How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water,” the most recent novel by “Dominica” writer Angie Cruz, can have you laughing line after line, even once you marvel if you need to be. (The reply is at all times sure! ) By the point her classes are up, although, you’ll really feel like a lot of those that know Ms. Romero; that her incessant chatter has turn out to be as life-sustaining because the substance she will’t cease consuming.

Water could also be to Ms. Romero what spinach is to Popeye; it retains her robust for herself and others when she must be, even when she goes right into a session a number of days after surgical procedure. Her resilience calls to thoughts the best way some consult with ladies of coloration as “superhuman,” skipping over extra normative and useful descriptions like “qualified” and “capable.”

Not that Ms. Romero would describe herself as both succesful or certified; she’s merely doing what she should to get by. She is likely to be described as an over-sharer. “I came to this country because my husband wanted to kill me,” she says by means of introduction. “Don’t look so shocked. You’re the one who asked me to say something about myself.”

When her husband chopped off her lover’s leg with a machete, she started her journey to America. In tow was her younger son, Fernando, who she is proud to say has by no means gotten anybody pregnant or been to jail, although she regrets to say they aren’t getting alongside nowadays.

It’s not the one tenuous or damaged relationship in her life. Infrequently, Ms. Romero finds herself estranged from those that know her finest — her son and, for some time, her sister Angela, whom she waits up for on the elevator to her constructing solely to be dismissed with a “not today, Cara.”

However as she presents herself, she is infallible, dependable to a fault.

“What are your weaknesses?” her job counselor asks her.

“Pfft! This question is a trick,” Ms. Romero says. “Write that down: Cara Romero is strong.”

She is, in reality, fragile — a minimum of financially (although she parries with: “It’s OK right now because I get El Obama checks”). She is going to quickly should vacate the constructing she has lived in for 25 years so her landlord can renovate the area for renters who received’t look or act just like the Cara Romeros of the world.

That is the novel’s buried tragedy — the tragedy of gentrification personified in a personality of just about mythic flaws and strengths. As a result of to a lot of her neighbors, she is in reality indispensable.

When a lady in her constructing all of the sudden dies and Ms. Romero discovers her physique, she cleans the girl’s condominium earlier than calling the ambulance, giving her a final dignity — one thing many wouldn’t assume to do. She can be the unofficial daycare employee within the constructing. (She’ll have a bit sip of the wine whereas doing the caring, however who wouldn’t? And she or he’s not licensed, however who’s?)

Everybody has issues and Ms. Romero is there for them. Lulu, of the old-penny face, wants assist decoding her goals so she will select the numbers she performs on Sundays. One other neighbor, who lately misplaced her accomplice, can’t bodily depart her condominium to stroll her solely surviving companion, a canine named Fidel.

Ms. Romero is obtainable.

Cruz writes in English with braids of Spanish that received’t depart non-Spanish audio system misplaced. In any occasion, the writer’s language reaches out past the mind, doling out the smells of Ms. Romero’s cooking, the felt silences in her one-sided dialog, the hum of the city community she sustains as a matter of being. Cara Romero turns into your personal reminiscence.

She seems like a wild but protected place — like a neighborhood each anarchic and safe. What Cruz has written is an ode to the growing old auntie on the stoop, with no seen {qualifications} or obligations — besides the important job of holding the neighborhood collectively, partly by defending its loneliest, its most infirm or marginalized.

Cruz’s quick-reading character research is just easy on the floor; Ms. Romero is an advanced girl. Shouldering (and shrugging off) center age, frayed group, fractious family and friends and the exhausting squeeze of economics, she has a eager social prowess that always misses its goal. However Cruz by no means misses. Her new novel goals for the guts, and fires.

Deón is a two-time NAACP Picture Award nominee for Excellent Literature, Hurston/Wright Basis Legacy Award nominee, PEN America fellow, writer and felony lawyer.