Mean

Myriam Gurba. Coffee House, $16.95 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-1-56689-491-3
Gurba (Painting Their Portraits in Winter) forays into experimental nonfiction with this coming-of-age memoir that recounts deep trauma with remarkable swerves into humor. In brief, generally chronological but isolated stories, Gurba depicts how she slowly became aware of her racial and sexual differences during her childhood. Growing up in the 1980s in Santa Maria, Calif., as the daughter of a Mexican mother and a Polish-American father, she was acutely aware of prejudice, which she describes with a child’s disbelief in irrational unfairness. When Gurba has to stay with her white neighbors and the mom makes her what she calls a Mexican casserole, Gurba is intrigued but later fumes that she had forced down a “casserole whose nationality was a lie.” As she grows older her sensibility takes on a harder edge. She converts fraught situations into poetic, moving critiques, such as her meditation on the Catholic saintly tradition of extreme fasting and her sister’s anorexia: “By fasting, a girl ascends a throne made of bone. She stares into the face of the divine and beyond. She finds that infinity has no caloric value.” Gurba maintains her wry tone even when she pivots to discussing her sexual assault by a stranger. Her dark humor isn’t used for shock value alone, offering instead a striking image of deflection and coping in the face of real pain and terror, such as when recounting being raped, she describes her humiliation upon realizing she’s wearing her period underwear: “Girls know what I’m talking about,” she quips. These bleak circumstances doused in Gurba’s stark wit linger past the book’s final passages. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 09/18/2017
Release date: 11/01/2017
Open Ebook - 978-1-56689-501-9
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