Why this book: Jean Guerrero had been in our literature reading group a number of years ago, and when we learned that she had written this book, and one of our members had read it and commented that it was quite good, we selected it to read and Jean agreed to join us to discuss her book.
Summary in 3 Sentences: Crux is the memoir of a young woman growing up in a broken home and dysfunctional, cross-cultural family in San Diego; her mother was a physician who grew up in Puerto Rico, her father an entrepreneur who grew up in Mexico, who struggled with drug and alcohol dependency, and apparently some undiagnosed social-psychological issues. Her father was only an intermittent presence in Jean’s life as she grew up with the many challenges of a child in a broken home with a hard-working single mom, and a dad who was more often a liability than a support to the family. In Crux, the author regularly returns to Mexico as she explores her disturbed father’s roots and how his past intersects with, and has shaped who she is.
My impressions: Powerful book – a fascinating story which covers a lot of territory and kept me engaged throughout. I was never quite sure where she was going, but as the story grew and morphed it all came together. Jean Guerrero’s 29 years of life story, as narrated in Crux, is pretty remarkable, from childhood and her first memories, to elementary and high school, to college and beyond to becoming a successful journalist writing and reporting for some of America’s best known media. It is somewhat of a labyrinthine journey, sometimes focusing on her childhood adventures and mis-adventures, sometimes on her father, other times on her paternal grandparents, other times on her trips to Mexico to explore her family’s past, other times to Mexico as a reporter, and other times, she simply recounts her own maturing process and experiences. But the theme throughout is how all this has shaped and continues to shape the making of a pretty remarkable and resilient young woman.
Several of the people in our reading group called Jean a “hero” for her perseverance through the challenges of her childhood and young adulthood, to become a well-respected reporter in San Diego. She was a bit embarrassed to be referred to as a hero.
She did a lot of research on her family to write this book, interviewing her parents, relatives, researching how her family’s history might be preserved in documents. A couple of impressions struck me:
She tells the story of how her mother and her paternal grandmother met and chose to marry domineering and even abusive men. This is not an uncommon story in any culture, but particularly in the Catholic Latino culture, which continues to be strongly patriarchal, and women are expected to be subservient to their husbands. It’s easy to see how such marriages can lead to unfulfilling co-dependency relationships. As a physician, Jean’s mother had the freedom that Jean’s grandmother and many women do not – a profession and an income that allowed her the freedom to get out of a bad marriage. But as in any divorce, a lot of pain and psychological damage – to both parties and the children – are involved.
Another aspect of this memoir that stuck with me was the impact of the loss of a prized parent can have on a child. To Jean as a child, her father was something of an enigmatic hero, and she didn’t understand the dynamics of his departure, erratic behavior and distance from her and his family. This is certainly no great revelation, but Crux is ultimately the story of how powerful the impact of a parent can be. Jean shared with us how in reading a draft of her book, her mother was a bit surprised that Jean’s story focuses so much on her father, who had been a source of so much pain and turmoil in the family while he was with them. But a father can have a huge impact on a child. And Jean was seeking to understand the impact this enigmatic and largely absent figure had on her and who she has become.
There were a number of powerful vignettes in her story that stuck with me as well, from her own sexual maturing to a near drowning incident in Mexico, to her efforts as a journalist to explore the world of narco-trafficking in and around Cancun, as well as her exploring the stories of her relatives and ancestors as she sought to understand her family’s history.
Crux is very well written and a fascinating coming of age story of a young woman with a very non-traditional Southern California up-bringing. Jean is remarkably honest and forthcoming, and I found her often disturbing story to be very enlightening, enriching and uplifting. It is a story so very different from my own, but reflects much of what is happening all around me, but which I do not see.
Pingback: Billy Lynn’s Long Half-time Walk, by Ben Fountain | Bob's Books