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FACE OF AN ANGEL by Denise Chávez


by Denise Chávez

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-374-15204-7
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Soveida, the Mexican-American waitress narrating this unruly first novel, has such an enchanting voice and so willingly reveals all that it takes a while to catch on that she is never going to get to the point.

It's a shame, too, because Chavez (The Last of the Menu Girls, not reviewed) has created a wonderfully vibrant character whose little stories of life in the small New Mexico town of Agua Oscura are full of imaginative detail. As a religious young woman Soveida is fascinated by Saint Maria Goretti, who was raped and then killed. Later she learns about sex from an erotic-movie preview mistakenly shown to her elementary school class when they go to see The Song of Bernadette. At 15, Soveida begins working as a bus girl at a restaurant, where she eventually advances to waiting tables and starts writing ``The Book of Service,'' a collection of advice for young women thinly disguised as a waitressing guide. (The chapter on hands instructs servers not to wear rings because they will get dirty: ``Especially wedding, engagement, or friendship. They will only go down the drain sooner or later, and cause some kind of chafing.'') She herself marries twice, to a philanderer who leaves her for another woman and to a man afflicted with Peyronie's disease, a blood-vessel disorder that makes sexual excitement painful and intercourse impossible. After the latter's suicide, she takes up with a community-college professor of Chicano Culture and Tradition and Folklore. There are plenty of good ideas buried here: the different kinds of service in women's lives, academic distance from real life, the influence of upbringing. Unfortunately, none of these is presented as a central theme. Adding to the kitchen-sink feeling is the inclusion of documents ranging from Soveida's college papers (including her professor's comments and grades) to letters from former husbands and lovers.

Shoots out lots of sparks, but nothing ignites. (First printing of 25,000; author tour)