MEXICO—Sunlight and Shadows
Short Stories and Essays by Mexico Writers
Edited by Mikel Miller with Michael Hogan and Linton Robinson
Book Review by Clare Gearhart
This book is an excellent compendium of short works by 22 authors, all associated with the Mexico Writers Group. The tales come from all over this nation from Tijuana and the Baja to the steamy flatlands just up the coast from Chetumal, and they reflect the various sensibilities and insights of accomplished writers as they expose both the light, and occasionally the darker side of their Mexican experience.
For those who live in Mexico, an essay like “Where we Learn to Love Imperfection” by Carol Merchasin is bound to bring up bitter-sweet memories of breathing through a Mexico moment, when the one’s natal culture clashes painfully with dominant culture and the resulting cognitive dissonance fries the brain. The pervasiveness of magical realism, not as a literary device, but as part of the warp and weft of the Mexican culture has clearly influenced such authors as Robert Richter in his tale taken from “Something like a Dream.” Fact, fiction and magic are deftly woven together in evocative, poetic prose.
For us in the Chapala area, there is the fun of reading works by friends in town. Judy King’s article “Mariachi is Mexico’s Music” reflects the amazing depth of her knowledge of Mexican history and culture, combined with her deep appreciation of her adopted homeland and her delightful humor. Antonio Rambles’ tale of a brother coming to close the estate of his deceased sibling has a haunting poignancy for those who may be estranged from their families in the north. Jim Tipton treats us to a story of love, passion and cultural fusion, while Janice Kimball offers whimsy with a tale of a golf cart driver from hell.
On the shadow side there is a chilling tale of sexual exploitation by David Lida. I was not sure where the author of “Acapulco Gold” was going until the last paragraphs focused on the tawdry scene. Though it could have taken place anywhere, the details of life of a Mexican street child, whose face is familiar to all, give the story a vivid and graphic quality. Two authors created a piece called “Faith, Aphrodisiacs and Freeze- Dried Blood.” While not actually dark it explores the confluence of religion, faith and medicine and superstition, and the murky world of Voodoo.
My personal favorite is a story by Daniel Reveles, titled simply “The Doughnut Man.” Daniel is an accomplished Mexican-American author who has retained his quintessential appreciation of those aspects of love, faith and magic which are the very essence of the Mexican ethos. The doughnut man crafts his own wares, markets them daily to a sellout crowd, who are alerted by his tenor voice announcing his presence. The doughnuts are beautiful, smell even better, and taste like “dirty gym sox covered with cinnamon and sugar.” Only in small town Mexico would he enjoy such success, and how he does it will intrigue and delight you.
Shifting from the delightful contents of the book, I was less than pleased with the format. It would be a much more coherent read had the works been organized by area of origin or theme. Sadly, they are presented in alphabetical order by author’s last name, jolting the reader from one corner of this vast and varied country to another. It’s rather as if some beautiful stones were gathered to create an artistic necklace, only to be strung in order of size. As a book aficionado for years, I have come to expect to find the table of contents directly following the title page, on the right hand side. Not so here. Curiously the editorial reviews are located there, and the contents are tucked behind them.
Once you locate the contents, you find in close sequence a list of contributors, which is more or less a restatement of the hidden table of contents, but lacking in page references. More than 20 pages at the end of the book are ads for the various contributors’ books. If only there had been more contributors! One wonders if the editors mistrust the reading public to be able to locate Amazon or Google on the internet.
Let’s return once more to the amazing contents of this work. The stories and essays are well chosen and insightful and well worth the read. Whether you have lived in Mexico, do so now, or simply dream of a time when you might, this collection is one that you will treasure. Enjoy the sunlight, explore the shadows, and revel in the magnificent mystery of these vignettes of Mexico.
And not-so-incidentally, the anthology won the Gold Digital Award given out yearly by the Independent Book Publishers Association.