If I’ve there’s a book that disproves Oscar Wilde’s assertion that art materializes solely from the mind of the artist with incredible but unintentional conviction, it’s How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents. It comes off as so autobiographical that I have difficulty analyzing these characters, wondering: Were these created from the author’s mind to serve a purpose? Or are they present simply because they were present?
I have little doubt in my mind that the numerous cousins, such as that materialistic one from the beginning that criticizes Yolanda’s hair, and Mundi, the good childhood friend are entirely non-fictional and existed in Alvarez’s life. So, why all the detail, intimate descriptions of life in the Dominican, life in the USA, and the thoughts in minds of people experiencing both lives when the book ends in such a surreal, hyperpersonal admission of guilt? Guilt is too broad of a term to use, because the ending exudes various trains of thought and emotion: those of nostalgia, self-pity, confusion of a child, and those of a confused adult whose confusion remains childhood confusion.
The ending punctuates my belief of its autobiographical nature when this strange cat, a metaphor for Alvarez’s concern of potential literary and personal criticism both by herself and others stalks her throughout the final chapter. This cat can be substituted as a supernatural force that somehow enters the seemingly impregnable house. Evidently this haunting icon is not a physical force but a mental one, creeping the mind of Alvarez in her youth and in her adulthood, justifying the intimicacy with which we get to know her Yolanda. She cites “At that hour of loneliness, I hear her, that black furried thing lurking in the corners of my life, her magenta mouth opening, wailing over some violation that lies at the center of my art.” Alvarez experiences guilt for creating a work that straddles the border between fiction and non-fiction as haphazardly as her characters do.
I don’t think there is any critical middleground to why Alvarez employs such a strange chronology, the book is still art and thus doesn’t require an explanation for the style with which it presents itself. I don’t feel she did it to better convey the nature of the characters, because now that I’ve read the second half of the book, I have difficulty critiquing them with any presumptions I previously made! The characters of the second half don’t really think any of the same thoughts as the ones from the beginning. I felt like I was reading two different books…the first half concerning the themes we’ve all agreed upon such as identity, assimilation, fragmented self etc. and the second half seemed more a study of morality and the texture of childhood minds.
I find that Alvarez’s style is extremely visceral and foreign all at once, for her method of intertwining small remarks about tomboyism and childhood mindset with political unrest and Dominican culture leave me feeling distant and close to her writing. After reading numerous scholarly articles on the book I feel that I should be mentioning some of the incredibly complex allusions and social commentaries these academics accuse her of making, but because I never would’ve recognized what “should not be considered post-colonial uncelebrated discourse from a dehistoricized concept of cultural hybridity” I will not.
With regard to why Yolanda was institutionalized, I think it was her narcissicism that drove her insane, not America.