This is the first book of stories in my personal short story challenge. I have long suspected that the brain-parts that allow one to *enjoy* a short story rather than just appreciate it at a slightly perplexed distance are deeply missing from my literary make-up. It’s very possible that I will read what is someone out there’s favoritest story in the whole word and dismiss it with a mild “eh” and a shrug of the shoulders. If that should happen, remember –before you throw soft fruit–that I’m the one who’s missing out on things.
That said…(deep breath)
I read about half of the stories in The Faith Healer of Olive Avenue. The characters live in a shop-worn California town. They’re Mexican-American. They didn’t spark recognition in me – that’s not my home–but I was comfortable with them, content to rub along with them for a few episodes. But allá–now that was something I recognized.
Allá (‘over there’) is an elegant shorthand for a whole way of not-belonging, of outgrowing your home and your family and your place in the world. Allá is what the father calls where his son lives in Tell Him About Brother John. Allá means: that place I don’t understand, that place I don’t see why you had to go, that place of strangers, that place where I would mean nothing, that place I am so afraid of I’m not going to call by its name.
Everybody who grows up in a small town and goes away to college, has spent time in allá. Anybody who has blue-collar parents and grows up to get a desk job, knows allá. Anybody who falls in love with a boyfriend, when their parents were expecting a girlfriend, is a permanent exile to allá.
In the title story, the one I liked best, Emilio works the 3rd shift at the paper mill. A pallet of copy paper falls on top of him and crushes his legs. After the accident, his father takes care of him — wiping him, turning him, lifting him, dragging him. Emilio has no allá. It’s more of an ‘in here’ than an ‘over there’. But to his father, he is just as inexplicable and just as disappointing as the son who goes across the country to mingle among white Americans in a faceless city, to waste an education writing stories that don’t make any money, to live and love with other men.
Emilio doesn’t in any way choose his fate, but he ends up just as estranged from his father, his family, his community, his own life. He agrees to go to the curandera because his father believes. Because his father wants Emilio to be better more than Emilio wants it. Because he owes his father. He knows the boxes didn’t fall on him because of the evil eye–and yet, and yet.
Does the trip to the witch woman help? The answer is actually in another one of the stories.