Exploring the art of prose


Author: Amy Grote

Author’s Note

“Penny, Barbara, Ruth, Irene” is my bite-size homage to telenovelas. My mother would watch these shows on occasion, transfixed by the catty drama that was sandwiched between shampoo commercials and weather reports. Always, the women onscreen fought. When they cried, the music sharpened as they vowed to seek revenge. Divorce, death, love triangles, witchcraft—the story lines seemed to spin on an axis of turmoil. But I laughed at the lives of these fictitious women. I scoffed at their exaggerated performances. I rolled my eyes at their overdone faces. They were caricatures, weren’t they?

To answer this question, I turned my attention to the flesh-and-blood women in my own family, namely my mother and her sisters. They, too, wore high heels and makeup and spoke Spanish. They, too, experienced heartbreak. They fought, sometimes with each other, resentments festering in the silences that followed. Convinced sorcery had been cast upon them, some even lit candles in prayer. I was a teenager then, struggling to incorporate my Mexican culture with my American upbringing. I looked to telenovelas and other dramas to understand my life, and to possibly inform my future, as if these women-led programs were meant to both entertain me and reveal my fate.

Thankfully, my adult life reflects none of the onscreen melodrama I watched growing up. But there was something about those female characters I couldn’t let go of. They’re fun and exciting. And they happen to be women who are especially unlikable, a characteristic that, as Roxane Gay puts it in Bad Feminist, can “make the reader complicit, in ways that are both uncomfortable and intriguing.” I could construct my own telenovela, one wherein an obnoxious mother-in-law spits out her teeth when drunk. I could include an observant narrator who avoids conflict. I could braid the lives of women together with humor and curiosity. And best of all, I could write an ending wherein empathy replaces rivalry.

In early drafts, a few of my critique partners noted that my story read like a daytime soap opera. I wasn’t sure what to do with this feedback other than to ask myself what it was I had set out to accomplish. I thought about how stories we watch on television, especially for those in immigrant households, can offer us a sense of recognition and comfort, a connection to a homeland left behind. In reworking this piece, I realize now that I was offering myself a place of recognition, too. I’d like to think a sliver of my younger self exists on the page, a girl who created a world for herself that finally made sense.


Born and raised in Kern County, California, AMY GROTE resides in Los Angeles and holds a degree in English from the University of California, Los Angeles. She is currently in the throes of editing her first novel, a young woman’s retelling of her grandfather’s experience as a migrant farmworker in California. “Penny, Barbara, Ruth, Irene” is her first publication credit. Find her on Instagram @amygrote.