Sunday, October 30, 2011

Still Water Saints by Alex Espinoza

Humans need some extrahuman help to deal with what life brings

A chapter or two into this, I thought, my heart sinking, oh this is one of those linked short story deals masquerading as a real novel, but as I progressed through the story of a small Los Angeles exurb and its inhabitants, I conceded, well, almost. It’s almost a novel. An embryonic novel is buried here – one about a old woman, Perla, born with a gift she didn’t want and Dario, a illegal teenager in mortal danger that she tries to save.

The writing is very careful, painterly and illuminating. There is a rare willingness not to look away from tragedy and sadness. However, the problem with the linked short stories format is that the architecture doesn’t soar. Tension doesn’t build, but is dissipated. Also, I felt it needed more transgression.

There’s an anthropological/educational interest in this book as well. We get a glimpse into the Mexican saints, the uses of the 7 day candle, the bringing to life of the beliefs of this little community. The parents are immigrants, the children are Americans, and there is an unbridgeable gulf between them.

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