Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, former reporter for the Albuquerque Tribune, has churned out another book as part of her moneymaking machine. This one’s called The Husband Habit. Because I forced myself to read it, I know it’s about Vanessa Duran, a chef at an upscale Albuquerque restaurant. And—wouldn’t you know it?—she has the unlucky habit of unknowingly dating married men. What is a thirysomething to do? Swear off men, that’s what! Of course, that’s when a handsome man enters the scene. I wonder what happens?
~Erin Adair-Hodges, Alibi, July 9-15, 2009
That is the title and opening paragraph to a short review of Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez’s latest book, The Husband Habit. The review appeared in Albuquerque’s Alibi, a weekly alternative newspaper.
Now, negative reviews, and especially downright mean ones—I mean, “Shit Lit”??—tend to function in the same way that positive reviews do. They catch your attention and make you want to find out what all the fuss is about.
I’m familiar with Valdes-Rodriguez. She hails from New Mexico and is widely known for the outrageous success of her first novel, The Dirty Girls Social Club. But before that book came out, I worked with her father at the University of New Mexico. He’d been my professor, then later an associate. (He and I once led a group of travelers to Cuba for a tour in the mid 1990s, during a brief time when travel to the island was allowed for academics and journalists.) I remember him boasting that his daughter had landed a job with the Boston Globe and was making more than he was. Clearly proud, he spoke of her often.
I moved on to a new job and didn’t hear of Valdes-Rodriguez again until her father sent me an email telling me that she was moving back to NM to start a family. She then called to inquire about jobs at my company, although she made it clear that she was a writer and wanted to work in that field.
The next time I heard about Valdes-Rodriguez was when her debut novel came out. What interested me most, more than the book itself, was the story behind it. Here, from the Encylopedia of World Biography, is the reason I was fascinated:
After Boston, Valdes-Rodriguez moved on to the Los Angeles Times in 1998, where she covered the Spanish-language music industry. She also married and became pregnant, and she and her husband decided to move to her home state.Her letter of resignation to her LA Times bosses was a lengthy e-mail screed that made it onto the Internet, and gained Valdes-Rodriguez a certain measure of notoriety. In it, she excoriated the paper’s editors for grouping the diverse nationalities of Central America, South America, and the Caribbean under a single umbrella term. “‘Latino’—as used in The Los Angeles Times—is the most recent attempt at genocide perpetrated against the native people of the Americas,” she asserted, according to a New York Times article by Dinitia Smith.
Not surprisingly, Valdes-Rodriguez had a difficult time finding another job in journalism thanks to that letter. She scraped by, doing freelance public-relations work for Hispanic entertainers, and had to rely on Medicaid to cover the cost of her son’s delivery. But when she submitted a proposal for a nonfiction book about Hispanic pop divas, the editors who read it asked if she had written any fiction instead. Valdes-Rodriguez had been working intermittently on a manuscript for several years, and decided to leave her infant son at home with her husband and head for the local Starbucks. “The staff thought that I was strange because I was there all the time,” she recalled in an interview with London Daily Telegraph writer Marcus Warren. “I would be there 10 to 15 hours a day for two weeks.”
The submitted manuscript sparked a bidding war among publishers, who had long sought a “Latina Terry McMillan” to jump-start fiction aimed at Hispanic-American female readers. Valdes-Rodriguez earned a $475,000 advance on the book’s royalties when she signed with St. Martin’s Press, though that had not been the highest offer tendered….
Someone loaned me a copy of The Dirty Girls Social Club. It was a fast read, and I could understand how it made headlines by rejecting the notion that there was such a thing as a homogenous Latino population. Valdes-Rodriguez went on to publish several other novels, some aimed toward young readers, although I’ve never read anything more by her. While I admired her for busting the myth of the Latino label, I didn’t find her writing to be epecially deep.
But even given my lack of enthusiasm for Valdes-Rodriguez, the Alibi review of her latest novel seemed brutal. Perhaps the reviewer was trying to get back at the author; The Husband Habit is set in Albuquerque and apparently mentions the city’s “juvenile alternative weekly.” Still, these snippets from the review strike me as being over the top:
The novel’s slight attempt at being something more than a cut-and-dried romance comes in the form of Vanessa learning that her snap judgments of the handsome man (Dave? Steve? I can’t bear the thought of picking up the book again to find out) were wrong.
There’s more to hate: The cartoonish boss, the drama involving Vanessa’s parents that seems to be important but is later completed dropped, the lines like “Men totally suck.”
…I’ll say this: I’d rather snort a basket of dog farts than have to read this again.
There does seem to be more than your average amount of controversy surrounding Valdes-Rodriguez. An incident from earlier this year had to do with her apparently coming out as a bisexual in an email interview with GLBT website After Ellen, then later denying it. The website’s editor explained the debacle in a column titled The Woman Who Cried “Bisexual.”
And if you do a Google search of her name, you’ll find several other unflattering items, which I had not read until I decided to do a post about the mean-spirited review. I’m not particularly interested in a rehash.
All of which leaves me with this. When I first came across the Alibi review, I asked myself, Is it Envy?? That would make sense. Valdes-Rodriguez did and continues to do what most of us only dream of. But now I’m left thinking that maybe it’s Earned. I don’t know. I suppose it could be both. In fact, it very well might be both.
If you figure it out, would you let me know?
Postscript: Speaking of Envy, don’t forget the Out of The Blue Films “ENVY Contest” at red Ravine. Read the essay Cracking Envy (Or How I Learned To Stop Romancing A Deadly Sin) and then go to the Contest Submission Guidelines to learn how to participate and compete for an Amazon Kindle.