In Denise Chavez's fictional New Mexico town of Agua Oscura, the cockroaches swarm, the men are unfaithful and the women persevere (with God's help). Agua Oscura (Dark Water) is misnamed. In this novel of multi-generational dysfunction, life is not murky but brutally delightful and, at times, painfully clear.
Chavez's protagonist, Soveida Dosamantes, grows up like many Mexican-American young women in the Southwest. At age 6 she is marching off to church at 6:30 a.m., hand-in-hand with her grandmother, Mama Lupita, a wise lady who has painted her house blue in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
This is the first novel for Chavez, a performance artist who is one of "Las Girlfriends," a group of cutting-edge Latina writers that includes Chicagoans Sandara Cisneros and Ana Castillo. A feminist coming-of-age tale, "Face of an Angel" spares nothing and no one but keeps the Catholic faith-which is, in all its provincial richness, central to the lives of the women in Agua Oscura, no matter how much their men let them down. Indeed, each chapter features a sketch of a distinctive "milagro" or prayer amulet, the kind Mexican Catholics commonly pin to statues of saints as they make their prayer requests.