How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water: A Novel

Image of How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water: A Novel
Release Date: 
September 13, 2022
Flatiron Books
Reviewed by: 

“Cruz has created an unforgettable character in Cara. And readers will feel like they’ve made a new, fascinating friend.”

Angie Cruz, the award-winning author of Dominicana, offers another vivid portrait of a Dominican woman in her newest book, How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water. The intriguing title hints at the many problems facing Cara, the narrator of this ingenious novel. Drowning, or more specifically, un-drowning, is a theme throughout the book as Cara and her friends cry rivers of tears and then get on with life.

The book is cleverly organized as a series of interviews with a bureaucratic civil servant who meets with older unemployed workers, evaluating the best job opportunities for each applicant. Cara uses these interviews to explain the many problems she faces, but also to describe all the relationships in her life and the web of obligations (unpaid, not “real” work) that places demands on her time and energy. The chapters of her stories are interspersed with the paperwork, questionnaires, official worksheets that are used to define a person’s useful abilities. Cara’s voice, however, proves the true value a person offers, the kind of unquantifiable “work” that connects so much of our society but goes unrecognized and unappreciated.

The book opens with a strong first sentence, one that pulls us into Cara’s world abruptly and dramatically:

“My name is Cara Romero, and I came to this country because my husband wanted to kill me. Don’t look so shocked. You’re the one who asked me to say something about myself.”

Cara’s voice is direct and full of personality. We can hear her talking to us throughout the book and turning these pages is like being invited into a neighbor’s kitchen for a good gossip session. There is, of course, the story of why her husband wanted to kill her, the story of her relationships with her sister, with her son, with neighbors and friends. Despite not speaking perfect English, not having a college degree, not wearing fancy clothes, Cara has a strong sense of herself, of her own worth. Her pride shines through all her travails.

But her strength can also look like armor, like hardness to others. Naturally, it’s not easy for her to admit making any mistakes. Toward the end of the book, she and her sister Angela finally repair their rift by reminding each other what really matters: their love for each other. After fighting loudly in their apartment stairwell with neighbors crowding around to watch, Cara gives her sister the apology she so badly needs:

“’You’re okay,’ I said. I pulled her into my arms and held her tight like I know how to do.

Her tears, everywhere, my shirt and neck. You can imagine my fountain, too.

‘Here,’ Lulu said, giving us Kleenex.

Hernan told everybody that the show was finished.

And it was strange, but I started to laugh. But laugh! And then she laughed too. So loud

and so hard. It felt like all the windows and doors were opened inside of us.

I tell you: Angela se desahogo. In front of everybody.”

Cruz has created an unforgettable character in Cara. And readers will feel like they’ve made a new, fascinating friend.