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Crying in the Bathroom by Erika L. Sánchez book review

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Erika L. Sánchez’s new book, “Crying in the Bathroom”, has arrived just in time. The essay memoir explores the National Book Award finalist’s experiences with mental health, first-generation trauma, femininity and, most notably, motherhood. “Choosing how and when to start a family is critical to our liberation as women,” she writes in the essay “I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Mom.” “Having experienced the physical discomfort of pregnancy, I am even more convinced that forcing a woman to endure this against her will should be a crime.” It’s as if she predicted that the Supreme Court would overturn Roe v. Wade, and she set out to provide women with the literature they needed to comfort and inspire us as we navigate this new reality.

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Sánchez is a raw, unapologetic and acerbic writer who delves into difficult subjects. In one essay, she tells how the abortion gave her the opportunity to create a good life for herself now – which includes having a daughter. As she explains, she needed to build a life for herself before thinking about having children, and postponing her career and her happiness was not a sacrifice she was willing to make. Having that choice was not a quality of life issue; this checked in his life. “I will never claim that my abortion was easy,” she wrote. “It was, without a doubt, the worst experience of my life. However, if I could go back in time and start all over again, I would do it. I believe the procedure saved me.

However, not all of the essays deal with the choices surrounding motherhood. In “Do you think I’m pretty? Circle Yes or No”, the author examines the social construction of beauty and who defines it. Sánchez has a complex relationship with her appearance, something she repeats constantly throughout the book, mostly with self-deprecating comments about her large mouth and nose. (“I once asked my older brother to hand me a spoon,” she recalls, “and, with a straight face, he gave me a ladle.”)

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She questions the glamorized Eurocentric standards of beauty perpetuated in the media. It’s a stark contrast to the beauty standards of her own Mexican culture. As a result, her teenage life growing up in Chicago is strained. “I was confused,” she wrote. “The TV said I was chubby, while thinness was a concern among my people. What was the ideal weight then? I had no idea. She experiences bulimia briefly but it doesn’t stick because that she thinks it’s a waste of food.

Trying to follow beauty standards is exhausting and sometimes fun. From Tori Spelling’s “hot girl” character onBeverly Hills, 90210” Sánchez writes, “she looked like a sad horse that desperately needed a torta.” As funny as the essay is, Sánchez also manages to capture the frustration of being a young girl becoming a woman while trying to understand her body and fend off the predatory advances of men. During one of her teenage phases, she finally sees herself as beautiful, but unwanted attention from men forces her to reconsider if she even wants to be pretty. As an adult, Sánchez seems to have a better understanding of her own beauty and how to deal with it. She writes: “Beauty in itself is not the problem. The problem is who we let decide what is beautiful.

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Sánchez’s mental health is at the heart of his stories. She is open about her struggles with depression. The essay titled “Crying in the Bathroom” explores the author’s difficult relationship with office work, which stifles his creative side. At the age of 30, Sánchez took a well-paying job in marketing. It’s something her family always wanted for her, to escape working in the factories like they did. But the job doesn’t allow her the “life of art and freedom” she wants for herself, and the micro-managed environment places a terrible emotional burden on her. “I secretly took my husband’s anti-anxiety drugs just to get through the day,” she wrote. Instead of feeling relieved when she finally quits, Sánchez feels shame. As the daughter of immigrants who endured uncomfortable situations to earn a good life for their families, Sánchez believes that leaving a well-paying job, even though she was suffering, makes her weak in comparison.

There is a noticeable arc in the structure of the book. The author shows up at one of her lowest and most confusing points – broke and sleeping on an air mattress in a cockroach-infested apartment she shares with a friend – and takes us on a ride that ends with her happy and high. She has grown into a woman who can afford a big house with her husband and their three children. Sánchez’s writing evokes vivid images. It’s also humorous, contemplative, and so conversational that it feels like she’s telling her life story over a cup of coffee with a blunt on the side. Sánchez describes herself as loud and rude, and her writing proves it. All that to say, these insightful memoirs might not resonate with those who are easily offended. But those looking for an unfiltered, feel-good story will find it here.

Keishel Williams is a Trinidadian American book reviewer, arts and culture writer and editor.

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