The Faith Healer of Olive Avenue
“The Comeuppance of Lupe Rivera”
“The Comeuppance of Lupe Rivera” is from Manuel Muñoz’s THE FAITH HEALER OF OLIVE AVENUE ( Algonquin Books, 2007), which was shortlisted for the 2007 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. Muñoz’s writing has appeared in various publications, notably Rush Hour, Swink, Epoch, Glimmer Train, Edinburgh Review, and Boston Review. His first collection of short stories, Zigzagger, was published in 2003. Most of the stories in this first tome are set in the rural towns of the Central Valley of California. Muñoz has noted that the Central Valley has functioned as “reservoir of creativity” for him. David Ebershoff in a review for the Los Angeles Times wrote, “Muñoz has created a wholly authentic vision of contemporary California–one that has little to do with coastlines, cities or silicon. … [Zigzagger] heralds the arrival of a gifted and sensitive writer.”
The Faith Healer of Olive Avenue, his second collection, also takes place in a small community in the Central Valley. Jeff Turrentine of The New York Times wrote of the collection: “His stories are far too rich to be classified under the limiting rubrics of “gay” or “Chicano” fiction; they have a softly glowing, melancholy beauty that transcends those categories and makes them universal.”
Muñoz said this about the origin of his story: Sometimes, in the course of writing a draft, a very unexpected revelation insinuates itself into a story’s framework and provides a significant change or a new understanding. It sounds like I’m talking about the classic epiphany (and I am, to a degree), but the drafting of this story complicated my understanding of how I might use that term. An epiphany-as-a-revelation has always been, at least for me, something I’ve worked toward in a draft–I knew ahead of time what it was the character was supposed to discover. That was not the case with this story.
I thought the story was about Lupe, who is based very loosely on a young woman who used to take my sister and me to the local ball games when we were very young. The work of shaping her character came from a small gesture I remember from the ballpark–this young woman waving to one of the players on the field. I was smitten with the player after she did that. My admiration for her deepened and, as an adult, I could look past my clingy younger self and see, instead, the intuition that was at work. I remember that I kept an eye out for another wave from him, another signal that might confirm what I suspected about them, the stories I was inventing in my mind about their dating.
The story followed that same intuition, but the revelation was an unexpected one for both me and, ultimately, the narrator. Sergio observes, invents, and supposes all sorts of things about Lupe and the behavior of his neighbors only strengthens his feelings about what he thinks he knows. But the neighbors are the key: when Sergio realizes that others are observing, inventing, and supposing things about him, the comeuppance promised in the title is overshadowed by something larger than he imagines. I could have continued, but I liked how the understanding was so sharp to Sergio that he misunderstands it as a kind of ending. It is really his beginning.