By Allyssa Lee
Updated January 26, 2007 at 05:00 AM EST

For residents of the run-down Southern California town of Agua Mansa in Alex Espinoza’s debut novel Still Water Saints, afflictions appear in various forms, whether in the ravages of disease, unwanted pounds, or broken relationships. Rather than relying on modern medicine, residents (often immigrants from Mexico) pin their hopes on the mystical remedies of the neighborhood Botánica Oshún and its wizened proprietor, Perla. Espinoza alternates narration between Perla and her patients, lending his down-and-out characters a quiet dignity. But his debut reads more like sketches than a cohesive novel, and the overabundance of inhabitants keeps a larger story from coming fully into view.