Various Men Who Knew Us As Girls
ISBN 978-1-959556-86-2 360 pages $20.00
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Would her life have been better if she’d had sex with her supervisor when she was 23? Hester Smith is a woman who always played life near the sidelines—until she decides to rescue a teenage Mexican prostitute. She’s up against the border sex trade in Southern
California that works like a drug cartel, where the smuggled contraband is teenage girls forced to work as prostitutes in undeveloped canyons just outside suburbia. Law enforcement agencies know it happens, as do investigative journalists, yet the illegal sex trade continues to exist. Most people, comfortable in their homes only miles away, express some brand of shock in the moment they hear about it—and then they go on with their lives, assured there’s nothing they can do.
While she prepares for the rescue, Hester discovers that the man with whom she almost had an affair—her mentor when she was a 23 year-old student teacher—had been simultaneously having a sexual relationship with a 16 year-old student. Hester mines her own memories of the would-be affair and ultimately tracks down the former 16 year-old. When these two women with a shared scandal in their pasts confront one another, the meeting coincides with the last step necessary to rescue the teenage prostitute Hester has tried to protect. It is only this mayhem that allows Hester to finally take ownership of her decisions and regrets.
Cris Mazza has interwoven the stories of three contemporary women—one tempted, one involved, and one enslaved—in a fiercely honest novel about the continuum from flirtation to abuse. The story is feminist in the best sense. It wipes aside the pieties around the subject of harassment to probe the multiple realities of desire.
It’s not just the title that’s provocative. The genius of Cris Mazza is to overturn every applecart she can reach. This is one of her finest moments.
—Luis Alberto Urrea, author of
The Devil’s Highway and Into the Beautiful North
Cris Mazza, one of the originators of the term chick-lit before it meant urban-girls-looking-for-love, is a novelist and memoirist with 20 published books. Her titles include, most recently, a novel, Yet to Come, a story of marital angst in California’s Imperial County; and Something Wrong With Her, a real-time memoir. Mazza’s first novel How to Leave a Country won the PEN/Nelson Algren Award for book-length fiction. She is also author of the critically acclaimed Is It Sexual Harassment Yet? Mazza is a native of Southern California and is a professor in and director of the Program for Writers at the University of Illinois at Chicago.