Texas Book Festival 2002 Book Reviews
Debut novelist and SWT grad Diana López "captures a Tejano culture in flux" in her Sofía's Saints, writes Sarah Hepola.
Sofía's Saintsby Diana López
Bilingual Press, 147 pp., $14 (paper)
At the Trade Center Flea Market in Corpus Christi, people believe what they want to believe. Sell them a cheap purse with a designer label; sell them tap water and call it holy water; wrap up fantasy and mystery at discounted prices and that's fine -- as long as it looks real, sounds real, and seems real. Sofía isn't selling much these days; her woodburned signs of the saints tell no pretty lies about her world. "Instead of in the blazes of hell, St. Lucifer stands in the oil refinery flames that stink up the edges of Corpus Christi. Instead of a child on his back, St. Christopher carries the Harbor Bridge and the Intercoastal Highway." These babies are not flying. And that's a problem. Sofía has to come up with $50,000 fast, or she'll lose her childhood home. It's a home haunted with heartache -- a father who left, a mother who died -- but the heartache has, finally, grown comfortable. Sofía doesn't necessarily like her life, but after enough loss and disappointment, she has swallowed its bitter limitations: a best friend who isn't really a friend, a worshipful teenage boy who isn't a companion, a home that isn't hers. Written by first-time novelist and Southwest Texas grad Diana López, this is the story of how Sofía shakes off this complacency; how she learns to trust certain magic in the world; to not merely make signs but believe in them. López's protagonist is challenging, rich with contradictions and folly. When a male artist and friend offers meaningful companionship, Sofía flinches herself back into isolation. When a bank turns down her loan, Sofía buys lottery tickets and gives away what money she has. "I find myself desperately wanting to believe the myths of this world," she says. She means well, but she's got the pistol pointed at her foot and she's got pretty good aim. López gives us a lot to chew on here, although as a first-time novelist, her prose is at times overwritten. During a romantic interlude at a carnival, López writes, "Here in the midst of all these mythical and pop culture beasts, a pocket of privacy envelops us and mutes the wild noise of Bayfest." Her most potent writing comes in simple observation: a boy who watches Jerry Springer but probably doesn't know the name of the president, a girl who pretends her RN boyfriend is a doctor, a mural of La Virgen covered over by a picture of Selena. Through these resonant images, López captures a Tejano culture in flux, as troubled and gifted as Sofía herself.
Diana López joins Greg Garrett, Stephen Graham Jones, Kimmie Rhodes, and Sharon Wyse on the "My First Time: New Authors" panel at 1pm on Saturday, Nov. 16, in Capitol Extension Room E2.014. She'll also give a reading at 11:30am on Sunday, Nov. 17, in the Giving an Earful Reading Tent at 13th & Colorado.