An unusually structured and gravely confessional memoir.
Alvarado (Not a Matter of Love, 2006) follows her debut short-story collection with a memoir that also explores the intersection of Hispanic and Anglo cultures in the western United States. This highly personal work weaves together stories of her parents' lives as well as her own experiences with love, familial attachment, heroin addiction, motherhood, travel and her writing. "I have autobiography anxiety," she writes, explaining that she felt "no tenderness" for the self recorded in her adolescent journal. This may explain, to some degree, the wild deviation Alvarado takes from typical autobiographies. With no quotation marks and chapters averaging one page, she writes only in the present tense, from her perspective as a girl up to now, in her mid-50s. This somewhat jarring structure imbues the book with a strong, immediate voice, and it's easy to imagine it read aloud as something akin to spoken-word poetry. Her overlapping of the past and present illuminates her legacy and the connections between herself and, respectively, her mother and daughter. In examining her own secrets, she recognizes that, even if she doesn't know what they are, her children also have secrets. She wonders if they tried to confide in her and she failed. "Maybe," she writes, "like my mother, I shut my eyes, my ears, my heart." But her memoir stands as a striking rebuttal to that fear. She lays bare in these pages the many stories and details of her life and identity. Devoid of self-pity or nostalgia, Alvarado's voice is bell-clear. Some readers may find the lack of humor and the scattered structure unappealing, but for others this collection of tales will resonate.
Fragmented but poetic.