Monday, Monday, Story366. I wish there was some great story to report today, but actually, things went as scheduled, which is odd at this time of the year. Now that AWP, Easter, and Karen’s trip to Ohio are over, two Moon City Press books released, and two more firmly in the pipe, all I have to do is finish the semester, three weeks to go. Hopefully, things stay uneventful, and I’ll have to concoct ways of leading into my story posts. The more uneventful, the better, as usually at this time of year, I’m on my last legs.
About a week ago, a colleague of mine at SmokeLong Quarterly announced that they had gotten into the MFA program at Arizona and asked the rest of us on staff (I, along with Karen, serve as the Interviews Editor) if it was a good program. I knew that it was, and sent my blessing. One thing in particular this person asked was how good the faculty was, and aside from Ander Monson, I had to admit I couldn’t name anyone else. So, I went to their website and found their impressive list of writer-professors, which, on the fiction side, also includes Kate Bernheimer, Manuel Muñoz, and Aurelie Sheehan, three writers who I haven’t read a lot by, three writers prime for Story366.
I ordered books by all three of these writers, but am starting with Manuel Muñoz, the one I’m most familiar with. I published a couple of shorts by Muñoz in Mid-American Review quite some time ago, like in the late nineties, and haven’t read anything by him since, save a story or two in lit journals. I remember loving those shorts—which were in fact more like prose poems, just one-paragraph stories—so I was excited to discover what Muñoz has been up to since.
I read a few stories in Muñoz’s second collection, The Faith Healer of Olive Avenue, from Algonquin Books, and liked all three stories. Tonight I’m writing on the title story, as I often do, the last story ion The Faith Healer of Olive Avenue, as I think it’s the best of the three.
“The Faith Healer of Olive Avenue” is about Emilio, a guy working in a California paper factory, that is until a pallet carrying boxes of paper—over half a ton of it—falls off a forklift on top of him. This leaves Emilio in a wheelchair, living with his father on Gold Street (which is where a lot of characters in the book live), his girlfriend having left him the moment of the accident, his prospects of recovery dim. Emilio’s father, losing strength by the day to lift him in and out of his chair, resorts to some alternative medicine. Enter the title character of the story, the faith healer of Olive Avenue, who for Emilio’s family’s life savings hands over a baby food jar of goo, some kind of salve that Emilio is to rub into his legs every day. If Emilio does this—and believes in God—he’ll be cured.
In terms of plot, that’s as far as I’ll go, as that’s pretty far into the story. What I want to focus on more is the way in which Muñoz writes “The Faith Healer of Olive Avenue,” which is more important than whether or not the belief cream makes Emilio walk again. This story is twenty-four pages long, yet features only five paragraphs—one paragraph stretches eight pages. These long paragraphs keep momentum going for pages upon pages, and despite the dense text, in a relatively small font size, Muñoz’s story flows; I was finished before I really settled in. I’ve not seen paragraphing like this in a contemporary short story. I’m not sure what Muñoz is going for here—I’m trying to think of the metaphorical significance of such a technique—but it makes the story feel like everything’s connected, less disjointed. I especially love the opening paragraph, over three pages long, that establishes the configuration and weight of the paper boxes on the pallet, how the shifts work at the paper mill, how the overnight workers are allowed to sneak whiskey and pot on breaks, how a lack of focus leads Emilio to make his tragic mistake—standing under the pallet when the forklift gets stuck; part of the passage even discusses how old and weathered and worn the pallets have become after years of use. That glob of story to start things off really sets a tone, an approach, and I’m glad Muñoz kept it going, kept melding ideas into conglomerations of passages, of ideas, of scenes. It’s truly original.
A story with an eight-page paragraph is pretty different from one-paragraph stories, so I guess my reintroduction to Manuel Muñoz shows a writer with range, at least length-wise. Also, he’s damn talented. His stories are heartfelt, real, and beautifully written. My colleague at SLQ will certainly be in good hands.