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  • Writer's pictureheidigrantbader

What Doesn't Kill You... Makes You Stronger

Updated: Jan 1, 2022

What single independent woman hasn’t suffered from her own bout of The Charlie Diaz Syndrome at some point in her life? The circumstances may change, the details, the particulars, but the sweeping sense of humiliation, misunderstanding, and rejection, capitalizing on that otherwise strong woman’s insecurities and past abandonment, may ring true for many.

The first part of the novel draws the reader into strong feelings of identity and compassion with the main character Bianca. The impression that a relationship is progressing forward passionately, and then suddenly the sensation of falling when the ground disappears beneath you. Being left alone with nothing but a few tattered memories that soon become twisted as efforts to reach out for connection and explanation are met with cruel iciness and manipulation.

Author Michelle Garcia deftly conveys Bianca’s bewilderment and simultaneously orchestrates a sizable cast of characters, granting them each unique voice and motivation. Her writing carries the reader from page to page rapidly in a desire to find out what happens next and to learn why, why, was Charlie Diaz motivated to be such an ass? Bianca doesn’t want to call attention to herself and her embarrassment, yet makes poor choices that lead to further shame.

The depth of the story is revealed while Bianca basks in the sun in Costa Rica listening to a song in Spanish:

“The exquisite, delicate melody was a betrayal to the pain in the lyrics, a misrepresentation of the songwriter’s stanzas about lost love. If you knew the language and paid attention to the words, you’d know the music was a cunning mask for the grief and regret that the ballad was really about.”

And so too is this story a placeholder for the real experience of heartbreak that causes wreckage in a person, so that walls are built to disguise wells of raw, crushed, emotion. How can one build solid healthy relationships when they are tripping over the debris of such rubble? Despite the underlying brokenness, the tone of the novel is not melancholy like heartache, but rather spirited in the manner of a survivor. As Leonard Cohen sang, “There is a crack… in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

More than halfway through the novel there is a surprising point of view shift, but the author skillfully maneuvers this, revealing the different perspective that brings the narrative full circle. I was relieved by the ending that did not follow standard tropes. This is not a romance novel. The concept of purification comes to mind, as I’ve never noticed so many characters taking so many showers in a book. It’s as if they’re cleansing themselves, literally and spiritually, a sort of mikvah experience serving as a transition from one phase of existence to the next. Or in this case, from one scene or chapter to the next.

Michelle Garcia has piqued my interest in her characters and captivated me with her storytelling prowess. I anxiously look forward to the publication of English 101: Prequel to “The Charlie Diaz Syndrome” as I am curious to learn more about Bianca’s history. She hinted at violence and volatility in her past relationship, reminding the reader that she could retaliate. “Just because I choose not to hurt you, doesn’t mean I don’t know how,” she tells Charlie. For a moment there, I wanted Charlie to hurt. But now, I wash my hands of him.

As for my own Charlie Diaz, I was so enthralled by this novel that I was nearly inspired to write about my experience of mystifying dismissal, after a whirlwind of magnetism and seduction. Then I paused and decided not to hang a frame around that snapshot from my life. Because my Charlie Diaz doesn’t deserve a book named after him.

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