The Faith Healer of Olive Avenue

Article excerpt

The Faith Healer of Olive Avenue, by Manuel Muñoz. Algonquin, May 2007. $12.95 paper

Muñoz's new collection continues to map out the charred emotional topography he first explored in Zigzagger, his well-received debut of 2003. Muted, intimate, and masterfully restrained, these overlapping stories offer brief, revealing glimpses into the lives of Mexican Americans and immigrants trying to make a go of it in hardscrabble industrial communities on the decline in and around Fresno, California. Low-budget strip malls, cheap hotels, used car lots, nighttime bus stations, and half-deserted shopping centers provide a melancholy backlight to the wearying trials of dead-end jobs, hopeless love affairs, and frayed family ties that characters must endure while trying to maintain their dignity and give some semblance of meaning to their lives. Muñoz's affecting combination of unsparing, sometimes lugubriously detailed realism and large-hearted tenderness lends the stories their suggestive delicacy and power. Each tale begins just after a traumatic turning point in its protagonist's life and only gradually releases the relevant clues to give meaning to the change. "Lindo y Querido," the first, and most exquisitely devastating story in the collection, depicts the inner struggle of an undocumented Mexican housekeeper to come to terms with the death of her son in a motorcycle crash. …