Angie Cruz, a native of New York City's Washington Heights neighbourhood, seamlessly weaves her Dominican heritage into her latest novel, How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water. Through the eyes of her Dominican protagonist, Cara Romero, who calls Washington Heights, also known as the 'Little Dominican Republic,' her home, Cruz delves into a world that reflects the community she intimately knows.
Cara Romero, having resigned herself to a lifetime at the little lamp factory, finds her world abruptly upturned in her mid-50s during the era of the Great Recession. With the sudden loss of her job, she is thrust back into the job market after decades. However, what was meant to be a meeting with a job counsellor becomes a profound journey as Cara unravels the story of her life. Through twelve captivating sessions, she recounts her love affairs, the complex and ever-shifting dynamics of her relationships with her neighbour Lulu and her sister Angela, and her relentless battles against debt, gentrification, and the painful sting of loss. In Cara's unwavering determination to reclaim her life, we witness a woman relentlessly battered by trials and tribulations yet still of fight.
How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water is a spectacular novel. Yet, what truly sets it apart is the unique narrative approach and structural ingenuity. The entire novel follows Cara’s dialogue with her job counsellor at the Senior Workforce programme, while additional layers of the narrative emerge through the paperwork she and her counsellor file. This structure made for an unexpected and engrossing element of the reading experience. As Cara navigates through her sessions, her interactions with the counsellor become an unbalanced dialogue, with Cara pouring out the story of her life to her counsellor, who remains silent for the duration of the book. Here we are granted intimate access to her candid responses and ramblings, evoking both sadness and laughter. Cruz’s unique approach to storytelling affords us the opportunity to fully grasp and empathise with Cara’s experiences. No longer reduced to a mere statistic or stereotypical ‘welfare queen’, Cara emerges as a fully realised individual who commands our time and attention.
Furthermore, Cruz fearlessly exposes the neglected realities of the impoverished and immigrant communities—realities conveniently ignored by prevailing policies. For over two decades, Cara toiled tirelessly without any benefits at the lamp-making factory until its relocation. Despite her unemployment, Cara finds herself burdened with a down payment for a crucial medical procedure, depleting her meagre resources while grappling with exorbitant rent hikes that aim to displace long-term residents in favour of wealthier tenants in the name of gentrification. Through her poignant storytelling, Cruz masterfully sheds light on the relentless struggles faced by individuals like Cara, granting them a resounding voice and the agency they deserve. By drawing attention to their plight, Cruz impels us to confront the systemic barriers they face and embrace their stories as catalysts for change.
Beautifully written and profoundly thought-provoking, How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water is a literary masterpiece that invites a whirlwind of emotions, evoking smiles, tears, and laughter.