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A House of My Own: Stories from My Life
400 pp., 28.95
D. L. Mayfield
At Home Everywhere and Nowhere
A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.
Each of us narrates our life as it suits us.
How many of the people reading this review encountered The House on Mango Street in high school? I plucked it off the shelf my junior year, and read it while my classmates toiled away on essays. The cover was bright and vibrant, and so were the stories inside, the people piling up on one another, a neighborhood so different from my own rural upbringing in the Pacific Northwest. To transport, teach, and move a self-absorbed 16-year-old is no easy feat, but this is what Sandra Cisneros had accomplished. She was a bridge over the gaps of culture and class in America; she was beam of light into houses where I'd never been invited.
Cisneros' new book, A House of My Own: Stories from My Life, is a series of autobiographical fragments, carefully threaded throughout with her fierce desire for autonomy and creative success. The book opens with recollections of the period in her life when she was finishing The House on Mango Street, her first work of fiction, published when she was 29 years old—the book that went on to define her career. It's a jarring place to start. Like most readers, I guess, I had my ideas about what the woman who wrote Mango Street should be like. I wasn't expecting to meet a young woman typing away on a Greek island, discussing her casual lovers and eccentric artist acquaintances, reveling in her lack of money and the incredible amount of freedom she has to be her own person. Her windows open into the sea breeze; she eats calamari on whitewashed steps overlooking the marina; and both the older woman writing the essay and those of us reading it know that success is just around the corner for her.
I realized, as I tried to make sense of my reaction, that I am envious of Cisneros, that her life seems glamorous and exotic and set in a world very different from the one ...