Cara Romero thought she would work at the factory of little lamps for the rest of her life. But when, in her mid-50s, she loses her job in the Great Recession, she is forced back into the job market for the first time in decades. Set up with a job counselor, Cara instead begins to narrate the story of her life.
... taut and poignant ... What makes Cara such an appealing character is her willingness not just to step in muck, but to admit as much to a perfect stranger ... Through Cara, Cruz forces her reader to understand that life a little bit better. To see how Cara is forced to inhabit two worlds simultaneously, shifting seamlessly between English and Spanish. That we can still hear her above the deafening racket of gentrification, still feel her through the sterilizing wall of bureaucracy, is significant. In projecting Cara’s voice, Cruz prioritizes the importance of seeing an individual’s humanity even within the most impersonal of systems. The novel makes clear that the round-the-clock work Cara has done to better her Washington Heights community — often without compensation — is just as valuable as more 'traditional' forms of paid labor ... A cynical reader might say things turn out a little too nicely for Cara in the end, or dismiss Cara’s past as unforgivable, generational trauma be damned. But like the novel itself, Cara resists classification. More than a job, or a cure, she requires a patient audience with whom she can share her most intimate secrets.
The story, told in Cara’s unfailingly frank, sometimes hilarious, voice, quickly expands like the bellows of an accordion to release chords of friendship, community and, occasionally, lust, amid the financial stresses, discrimination and personal divisions faced by Cara, her family and friends in their rapidly gentrifying Washington Heights neighborhood ... Cara punctuates her anecdotes with clear-eyed observations about contradictions and injustices in the country where she has spent most of her adult life, even as she studies to become a U.S. citizen ... Through Cara’s memorable voice, images of other characters emerge ... Cruz once again offers a fresh glimpse of immigration, womanhood, aspiration and gentrification, but the first-person gaze of the protagonist here takes on a more confessional, stream-of-consciousness tone ... an engaging read, one that invites the reader to look at the world as 56-year-old Cara does, with a mixture of harsh assessment, surprising naivete and, ultimately, a deep current of tenderness. The book also resounds with the sense that Cara loves and believes in herself, despite all she has gone through ... It might seem superficial to call this a feel-good tale, yet Cara is a character to love. This is as much a story about Cara’s interior life and the human connections she makes as it is about her external disenfranchisement as an immigrant woman with limited financial and educational resources. How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water delivers a sense of the enduring worth of relationships, life experiences and determination as currencies in a difficult world.
... will have you laughing line after line, even when you wonder if you should be. (The answer is always yes! ) By the time her sessions are up, though, you’ll feel like many of those who know Ms. Romero; that her incessant chatter has become as life-sustaining as the substance she can’t stop drinking ... Cruz writes in English with braids of Spanish that won’t leave non-Spanish speakers lost. In any event, the author’s language reaches out beyond the intellect, doling out the smells of Ms. Romero’s cooking, the felt silences in her one-sided conversation, the hum of the urban network she sustains as a matter of being. Cara Romero becomes your own memory ... Cruz’s quick-reading character study is only simple on the surface; Ms. Romero is a complicated woman. Shouldering (and shrugging off) middle age, frayed community, fractious friends and family and the hard squeeze of economics, she has a keen social prowess that often misses its target. But Cruz never misses. Her new novel aims for the heart, and fires.