Hart (Journalism/Univ. of Oregon; The Assault of Laughter, 2005) takes a second crack at recording her coming-of-age years in 1970s Southern California.
While the author’s first memoir focused on her relationship with her lesbian mother, this one deals with not only that issue but also with her conflicted feelings about being white. When her parent’s marriage dissolved and her mother moved out of their upper-middle-class suburban home, taking the author and siblings with her to Oxnard, a farming community north of the city, Hart was drawn to the color, warmth and especially the food of the large Hispanic families nearby. Chapters end with tongue-in-cheek recipes for making such dishes as tortillas, frito boats, chimichangas and chili. Her father soon won primary custody of the children, and the end-of-chapter recipes change to such delicacies as “WASP Milkshake” and “White Girl Cookies.” Hart viewed her cultural background as pallid, banal and insipid, and her awkward teenage attempts to make her way into more vibrant and tradition-laden cultures were often disconcerting and disappointing. As a misfit college freshman at UC-Santa Cruz, she hooked up with a Mexican-American janitor, believing that as his girlfriend she had finally achieved cultural legitimacy. For a time they lived together in a ramshackle trailer on his parents’ ranch, but the disparities in their backgrounds and in their expectations and ambitions doomed the relationship, apparently ending her search for an identity in the Hispanic world. The concluding chapter recounts a disastrous post-college trip to Spain with her mother in which the two women were totally out of synch with each other. The book is filled with detailed conversations and particulars of dress, mannerisms and facial expressions that give it the feeling of a novel.
A quirky narrative of artfully reconstructed memories.