Friday, October 31, 2008

Carlos Fuentes: Happy Families

Eric Liebetrau reviews Carlos Fuentes' Happy Families
In his latest short-story collection, "Happy Families," Mexican author Carlos Fuentes lends credence to Tolstoy's paradigmatic line from "Anna Karenina," demonstrating in myriad ways that, indeed, "every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

Certainly, there aren't many "happy families" to be found in these pages - more like miniature cyclones of emotion that oscillate between loyalty and betrayal, devotion and rebellion. These 16 stories, like most of the author's fiction, spotlight his home country, though more often than not it's portrayed in less-than-rose-colored hues. A former diplomat, Fuentes is acutely aware of the corruption (a "national pastime"), greed and opportunism that pervade modern Mexico, and he rarely misses an opportunity to dig in and expose the raw-boned truth beneath the surface.

"Being a man doesn't mean not being a child anymore but beginning to be a criminal," notes the narrator in "The Mariachi's Mother," a simmering portrait of a mother's love for her son and desire for him to lead a better life than she. After Maximilian is injured in the wake of a violent protest, Doña Medea supplicates herself in prayer for her son's recovery - though she wryly notes "that even though her example of charitable availability benefits no one, at least it creates something like an aura of kindly normality in a neighborhood with no standard but evil."
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