Crying in the Bathroom by Erika L. Sánchez Book Review


The new book by Erika L. Sánchez “Crying in the Bathroom” has arrived on time. The memoir in essays explores the National Book Award finalist’s experiences with mental health, first-generation trauma, femininity, and motherhood in particular. “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 makes me even more convinced that forcing a woman to endure it against her will should be a crime.” It’s as if she expected the Supreme Court would overthrow Roe v. Calf, 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, uncompromising and bitter writer who takes on difficult subjects. In an essay, she talks about how having an abortion gave her the opportunity to build a great life now – which includes a daughter. As she explains, she had to build a life of her own before she considered having children, and putting off her career and happiness wasn’t a sacrifice she was willing to make. This choice was not about quality of life; it Saved her life. “I will never pretend my abortion was easy,” she writes. “It was without a doubt the worst experience of my life. However, if I could go back in time and do it all over again, I would. I think the procedure saved me.”

However, not all essays deal with the decisions surrounding motherhood. In “Do you think I’m pretty? Circle Yes or No”, the author addresses the social construct of beauty and who is allowed to define it. Sánchez has a complex relationship with her looks, which she reiterates throughout the book, mostly with self-deprecating comments about her big mouth and nose. (“Once I asked my older brother to pass me a spoon,” she recalls, “and he gave me a ladle with a straight face.”)

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She questions the Eurocentric ideals of beauty that are glorified and perpetuated by the media. It’s a stark contrast to standards of beauty in their own Mexican culture. As a result, her teenage life growing up in Chicago is strained. “I was confused,” she writes. “Television said I was chubby while my people were worried about my thinness. What was the ideal weight? I had no idea.” She briefly experiments with bulimia, but it doesn’t stick because she thinks it’s a waste of food.

Trying to keep up with beauty standards is exhausting and sometimes fun. Continued from Tori Spelling’s “hot girl” characterBeverly Hills, 90210,” pánchez writes, “She looked like a sad horse in desperate need of a torta.” As funny as the essay is, Sánchez also manages to capture the frustration of being a young girl growing into womanhood while trying to understand his body and ward off the predatory advances of the men. In one of her teenage years, she ends up believing she’s beautiful, but men’s unwanted attention forces her to reconsider whether she even wants to be pretty. As an adult, Sánchez seems to have a clearer understanding of her own beauty and how to deal with it. She writes: “Beauty itself is not the problem. The problem is who we let decide what is beautiful.”

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Sánchez’s mental health is central to their stories. She’s open about her struggles with depression. The title essay, “Crying in the Bathroom,” explores the author’s difficult relationship with office work, which stifles her creative side. When she turns 30, Sánchez takes a well-paying job in marketing. Her family always wanted this to escape working in factories like they did. But the job doesn’t allow her the “life of art and freedom” she desires, and the micro-organized environment takes a terrible emotional toll on her. “I secretly took my husband’s anti-anxiety meds just to get through the day,” she writes. Instead of being relieved when she finally stops, Sánchez is ashamed. As the daughter of immigrants who endured uncomfortable situations to earn a good living for her family, Sánchez believes that giving up a high-paying job, even though she suffered, makes her weak in comparison.

There is a recognizable arc in the structure of the book. The author introduces herself at one of her lowest and most confusing points – broke and asleep on an air mattress in a roach-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 large house with her husband and three children. Sánchez’s writing evokes vivid images. It’s also humorous, thoughtful, and so chatty that it feels like she’s recounting the story of her life over a cup of coffee with a blunt by the side. Sánchez describes herself as loud and crass, and her writing proves it. All of this means that this insightful memoir might not go down well with the easily offended. But if you are looking for an unfiltered feel-good story, you will find it here.

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

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