From an author of Anglo and Puerto Rican descent: a spare, poetic novel-in-stories of ordinary people in a Mexican village, focusing on elemental subjects of birth and death. Ben°tez tries to illuminate lives that tourists glimpse from the outside. Here's a fisherman who loses a wife and two children in a bus accident; he then fashions a roadside shrine--so familiar to travelers in Mexico--with the help of his surviving son. A waiter's hopes of moving up in the world are thwarted when he--the social inferior--must bear the blame for a mistake. His wife sells paper flowers on the beach while their son sells Chiclets. Meanwhile, the man who entertains tourists with his trained canaries carries a burden of sorrow and guilt; an itinerant photographer shares a ride--and mutual fear and distrust--with a gringo; an Indian servant wants to learn how to read; and the schoolteacher has romantic longings for the nurse-midwife but must care for his demanding invalid mother. None of these imagined (occasionally intersecting) lives, many of them stock, are much of a stretch, but all are delineated with care. The real dramatic thread here concerns chambermaid Marta, pregnant due to rape. When her sister and brother-in-law rescind their offer to raise the child, she seeks supernatural revenge. Repentant, she turns to the curandera, whose ambiguously successful rituals frame the novel and help hold it together. A pleasing if not terribly ambitious debut.