BOOK REVIEW by Willard Manus

Myriam Gurba is a writer with a unique voice as befits her upraising: daughter of a Polish father and a Mexican mother. She’s also bawdy, witty (a wicked punster) and ferociously honest. Here’s what she has to say about her crack-smoking friend Ida: “I didn’t like her immediately. She was too much like me. A cunt. A freethinker. A roamer.”

Gurba’s latest book, MEAN, is a kind of autobiography, but one that deals deftly with the saga of her coming-of-age, dramatizing only bits and pieces of it, the raw, important stuff. She’s essentially a comic writer, but the comedy is always black, savage and uncompromising, the result of having lived a life dominated by sexual violence and death.

Gurba was molested innumerable times, beginning in grade school by the boy who sat next to her and continuing through college by one of her professors, who, after having shoved her up against a wall and fingered her, asked, “How’d it feel to be diddled by a Jew?”
“Kosher,” was her reply.

Gurba’s jokes don’t cease, not even after she’s been raped and nearly murdered (by a fellow Mexican), but her soul will never be the same, the darkness in it will never lift. She obsesses over the Black Dahlia story, relates to it, even though the slain victim was white and she herself is brown–-or as she puts it more accurately, mud.

Being mud in a white, male-dominated world also makes you mean, as she confesses, in that bold, defiant voice of hers. “I want to be a likeable female narrator. But I also enjoy being mean. I always get crushes on people who are mean to me. I’m mean, but I’m not so mean that I’ve ever raped anybody. I’ve never grabbed a strange woman, pulled down her underpants, shoved my face into her pussy, and inhaled. That’s a special kind of mean.” (Coffee House Press)