Thursday, August 05, 2004

The Reading Life

By Vivian Lake
Puerto Rico Sun Book Editor


The Noise of Infinite Longing by Luisita Lopez Torregrosa (Rayo, $24.95, 286 pp)



Moving between past and present, Torregrosa begins her recounting when she and her five siblings meet for the first time in 10 years in Texas, after the death of their mother.
As the siblings get reacquainted, old conflicts and resentments begin to reappear, old patterns emerge. Torregrosa, the oldest, casts her memory back to Puerto Rico where they were all born, where their parents met and married, where conflicts and the pain they caused originated. As the oldest, she wants to set down the family history and the story of their parents' turbulent marriage for her younger siblings, who have accused her of distancing herself from them. There are other reasons for this which become clear later.
At first glance, they seemed like the perfect family. Their mother was an attorney who had been a cheerleader, an equestrienne and stage actress, their father a chemical engineer and later a doctor. Both were charming, beautiful and ambitious, it seemed any children they had would be very lucky indeed.
Unfortunately, the marriage was a combination of academic and professional success on the outside, and alcohol, infidelity and abuse on the inside. Her mother, a privileged and intelligent young woman, always told her daughters that their father supported her in her career, but the truth was quite different. His resentment at her achievement played itself out in countless infidelities and alcohol-fueled cruelties, which were glossed over and almost obliterated by their mother's spin control.
The story is told with intimacy, anger and love. As the first and most constant witness of her parents' story, she gives her siblings a difficult but precious gift: the unadulterated truth. She is also trying to come to terms with her feelings for her brilliant but flawed parents. A mother whose talent and accomplishments made her a woman ahead of her time, but whose emotional enslavement to the wrong man made her a stereotypical deceived wife; a father whose intellectual brilliance coexisted with a careless cruelty he unleashed on those closest to him.
This is also a story of a particular time and place, upper middle class post-war Puerto Rico, with its club memberships, high teas and balls, private schools and dinner parties, maids and drivers, hats and white gloves. It is a loving glimpse inside a bygone era.
Torregrosa leaves Puerto Rico to attend boarding school in Pennsylvania, and determined never to go back, begins to forge her own way and deal with the passionate, tumultuous and painful years that formed her. She pursued a career in journalism and is currently an editor at The New York Times.
This is a very rare thing -- a painful story wrought with limitless love.

Vivian Lake, a New York City-based freelance journalist, writes book reviews on, about or by boricuas and Latinos for Puerto Rico Sun. She also runs her own blog at www.bookauthority.blogspot.com.
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