Angie Cruz’s ‘How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water’ offers a narrator for the ages
In the opening pages of “How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water,” narrator Cara Romero tells an employee from the city workforce program: “I see you’re taking notes. So many notes. It’s true, you can write a book about me, because what I’ve lived has a hundred chapters.”
There aren’t a hundred chapters in this novel. But what Angie Cruz accomplishes with her richly detailed, sharply told story has a weight much greater than its 200-odd pages.
“How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water” is the story of Cara, a Dominican woman in her mid-50s who is caught in the Great Recession of 2009. Unemployed for two years and living in Washington Heights, she signs up for a Senior Workforce Program, where she meets with a job counselor to try to find work that matches her experience and interests. Over a dozen sessions with the counselor, who is a younger Dominican woman, Cara narrates the story of her life — her difficult childhood, her tumultuous love affairs; her complicated relationships with her sister, Angela, and neighbor, Lulu; and her struggles with parenting, debt, loss and grief.
Cara is a character for the ages — a wise, sassy, resilient woman who experiences heartbreak but doesn’t let it crush her soul or her sense of humor. Her sessions with the job counselor are interspersed with documents like past-due rent notices, job application paperwork and a “prospective employee questionnaire” that asks “What attracted you to this interview opportunity?” and “What are your long-term career goals?” Cara answers, “I want werk. Thank you,” and “I like werk. Thank you.”
Cruz’s latest novel is an intimate portrait of a woman who has lost almost everything but embraces the chance to tell her story. It’s a story, and a character, you won’t soon forget.