Fine storytelling that achieves universality while remaining rooted in a particular time and place.

THE FAITH HEALER OF OLIVE AVENUE

STORIES

Love troubles roil the lives of Mexican-Americans in ten superbly grounded stories.

They live on the wrong side of the tracks in a small Valley town near Fresno, Calif. They clean houses, do maintenance work at the paper mill. They suffer under “the fists of daily living,” and their marriages are “as tenuous as spiderwebs.” Several of the men are gay, which makes an awkward fit with their lives as sons and brothers and neighbors. Nobody realizes this more painfully than Sergio in “The Comeuppance of Lupe Rivera.” His gorgeous acquaintance Lupe has a succession of boyfriends, and when her married lover is stabbed by his wife’s brother, the neighbors try to intervene; those same neighbors stay out of sight when Sergio’s ex-boyfriends harass him. In “The Heart Finds Its Own Conclusion,” Sergio’s tenderhearted cousin Cecilia waits for him outside a bus station in Fresno, but she’s unable to save him from the vicious lover he’s fleeing. The complex negotiations between gay and straight society are depicted with particular subtlety in “Ida y Vuelta.” The decent Roberto had been extraordinarily helpful to his undeserving lover Joaquín, so the latter’s family allowed their gratitude to mask their deep distaste for the relationship. Muñoz (Zigzagger, not reviewed) also looks at parent/child interactions. “When You Come into Your Kingdom” is a moving study in thwarted paternal love: Following his son’s suicide, which he had provoked, Santiago acknowledges their shared loneliness. In the title story, Emilio’s father nurses him tenderly after his legs are crushed in a forklift accident. Connie cannot save her 17-year-old son Isidro, mortally wounded by a motorcycle accident in “Lindo y Querido,” but she does come to accept his love for the boy he rode with, now also dead.

Fine storytelling that achieves universality while remaining rooted in a particular time and place.

Pub Date: May 4, 2007

ISBN: 1-56512-532-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2007

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THE THINGS THEY CARRIED

It's being called a novel, but it is more a hybrid: short-stories/essays/confessions about the Vietnam War—the subject that O'Brien reasonably comes back to with every book. Some of these stories/memoirs are very good in their starkness and factualness: the title piece, about what a foot soldier actually has on him (weights included) at any given time, lends a palpability that makes the emotional freight (fear, horror, guilt) correspond superbly. Maybe the most moving piece here is "On The Rainy River," about a draftee's ambivalence about going, and how he decided to go: "I would go to war—I would kill and maybe die—because I was embarrassed not to." But so much else is so structurally coy that real effects are muted and disadvantaged: O'Brien is writing a book more about earnestness than about war, and the peekaboos of this isn't really me but of course it truly is serve no true purpose. They make this an annoyingly arty book, hiding more than not behind Hemingwayesque time-signatures and puerile repetitions about war (and memory and everything else, for that matter) being hell and heaven both. A disappointment.

Pub Date: March 28, 1990

ISBN: 0618706410

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1990

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HOW THE GARCIA GIRLS LOST THEIR ACCENTS

Told through the points of view of the four Garcia sisters- Carla, Sandi, Yolanda and Sofia-this perceptive first novel by poet Alvarez tells of a wealthy family exiled from the Dominican Republic after a failed coup, and how the daughters come of age, weathering the cultural and class transitions from privileged Dominicans to New York Hispanic immigrants. Brought up under strict social mores, the move to the States provides the girls a welcome escape from the pampered, overbearingly protective society in which they were raised, although subjecting them to other types of discrimination. Each rises to the challenge in her own way, as do their parents, Mami (Laura) and Papi (Carlos). The novel unfolds back through time, a complete picture accruing gradually as a series of stories recounts various incidents, beginning with ``Antojos'' (roughly translated ``cravings''), about Yolanda's return to the island after an absence of five years. Against the advice of her relatives, who fear for the safety of a young woman traveling the countryside alone, Yolanda heads out in a borrowed car in pursuit of some guavas and returns with a renewed understanding of stringent class differences. ``The Kiss,'' one of Sofia's stories, tells how she, married against her father's wishes, tries to keep family ties open by visiting yearly on her father's birthday with her young son. And in ``Trespass,'' Carla finds herself the victim of ignorance and prejudice a year after the Garcias have arrived in America, culminating with a pervert trying to lure her into his car. In perhaps one of the most deft and magical stories, ``Still Lives,'' young Sandi has an extraordinary first art lesson and becomes the inspiration for a statue of the Virgin: ``Dona Charito took the lot of us native children in hand Saturday mornings nine to twelve to put Art into us like Jesus into the heathen.'' The tradition and safety of the Old World are just part of the tradeoff that comes with the freedom and choice in the New. Alvarez manages to bring to attention many of the issues-serious and light-that immigrant families face, portraying them with sensitivity and, at times, an enjoyable, mischievous sense.

Pub Date: May 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-945575-57-2

Page Count: 308

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1991

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