At a glance:
- Author: Denise Chávez
- First Published: 1994
- Type of Work: Novel
- Genres: Long fiction, Psychological fiction
- Subjects: Ethnic groups, Minorities, Mexican Americans, New Mexico, Southwest, Waiters or waitresses, Latinos
Soveida Dosamantes, the first-person narrator of most of the novel, has grown up in Agua Oscura in southern New Mexico with her mother Dolores, her grandmother Mama Lupita, her cousin Mara, and a host of other ordinary/e xtraordinary Chicanos and townspeople. Soveida becomes a waitress at El Farol Mexican Restaurant and eventually writes a handbook for waitresses called THE BOOK OF SERVICE based on her thirty years of work there. The advice she gives waitresses reflects her ideas about her life, including her experiences with two husbands and other men, her relationship with her family, and her growing sense of pride in herself as a Chicana.
As Soveida tells the stories of her life and her lessons for service, she brings in the daily lives of those around her and their mutual struggles to survive. As she traces these individual lives— her family, maids, fellow workers at the restaurant, customers, lovers—she comes more fully to understand the roles of women in a male-dominated society and the necessity for strength, endurance, and service.
Denise Chavez is particularly brilliant in her ability to present vivid and memorable character sketches and to use colloquial speech effectively. The mixture of Spanish, English, and slang enhances characterization at the same time it captures the flavor of a region. Chavez is also able to tap into heartfelt emotions and to range easily from humorous situations to serious issues of infidelity, poverty, illness, and dying. She creates memorable individuals and intertwines them into a community that speaks to universal human needs.
Balassi, William, John F. Crawford, and Annie O. Eysturoy, eds. This Is About Vision: Interviews with Southwestern Writers. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1990.
Reed, Ishmael. Hispanic American Literature. New York: HarperCollins, 1995.
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