Debut author Cacho-Negrete identifies the trends in American life that shaped her in this debut collection of personal essays.
“I remain an immigrant, poverty my country of origin.” So writes Cacho-Negrete early in this volume. Raised by an immigrant Jewish mother in Brooklyn during the 1950s and ’60s, the author was a self-described “street kid”—one of a large demographic of latchkey children without much supervision or access to opportunity—who transcended her lot in life via education and a little luck. In the first essay, “Stealing,” the author recounts the two periods of her life when she routinely shoplifted goods from stores: as a street kid to help feed her impoverished family and again as a divorced mother of two who found herself struggling to stay afloat in her tony suburb. In “The Season of My Grandfather” she writes about her interactions with her mother’s estranged father, whom she met as a girl, sent by her mother to pick up payments for an outstanding debt. Not every essay is so dire, however. “Hair” recounts Cacho-Negrete’s struggle to accept her curly hair as a teenager when it did not conform with mainstream conceptions of beauty. “On the Fire Escape” describes how that particular architectural feature, so associated with New York, played a role at various points throughout the author’s life. Cacho-Negrete writes with a sharp, confident prose that evokes her settings with hyperreal clarity: “We lived in tenements that leaned against each other for protection, their plastic-covered windows blind eyes in winter that popped open in spring to spy into each other’s apartments. The hallways stunk from piss, pot, cheap perfume, cigarettes.” The essays serve as a sort of fractured memoir, one that seeks to underline the iniquities inherent to the American experience. Even this political angle, however, is a piece of supporting information that adds to the autobiography. These are the foundational stories of Cacho-Negrete. They explain why she thinks the way she does. Whether or not the reader comes away thinking the same things, this brief residence in the author’s head is illuminating.
A pointed, energetic collection of personal essays.