But I had never read the whole book. For better or worse, the stories collected here never deviate far from the pattern of "Geraldo No Last Name"--they are all short, some no more than a page, and they all concern a cluster of Hispanic immigrant families in Chicago, drawn from Cisneros' own childhood. The central figure is Esperanza, a young Mexican girl whom Cisneros follows from youth to young adulthood, mapping her journey of self-discovery, so to speak. To providethe full effect, I reproduce a story called "Laughter" in full:
There is a lot to like here--for instance, I think Cisneros aptly captures that deja vu feeling that haunts all of us, the way we are reminded of things without knowing why. Her spare, domestic metaphors ("ice cream bells' giggle") are inventive but seem to originate wholly from Esperanza's world. And the whole thing is wonderfully succinct.
The problem is, there are about thirty of these. Cisneros' style, with its unattributed quotation, is exhaustingly detached, and her subject matter is repetitive. If you were to pare down some of the vignettes of "quirky" neighbors (who cares?) and the litany of stories in which Esperanza and her friends discover their budding sexuality and changing physiques, you might be left with a very powerful fifty-page collection. Instead, even at 110 pages, The House on Mango Street feels long and padded, without a center to revolve around.