Alan Cheuse in the San Francisco Chronicle has a review of Carlos Fuentes’ newest novel Destiny and Desire. Surprisingly, he gives it a mixed, but ultimately positive review, something I haven’t seen when reading a Fuentes review for some time. ( Via the Complete Review)
Uncover a seemingly complicated plot in which these two apparent lifelong comrades stand opposed to each other in an attempt by one of them to create a coup against the sitting president. Throw in the beautiful Asunta Jordan, who manages Monroy’s affairs (and is having one with him and, with his permission, with other lucky men now and then). Mix in a mysterious female aviator who charms Josué, toss in an old law school prof who may be guiding the friends in their seemingly random behavior. Flavor with a prisoner in Mexico’s worst prison who is free to go but remains by choice in captivity – and add a layer of rhetoric to the narrative that makes for long passages that soar into the stratosphere but sometimes weigh down the plot. Do all this, and you have the narrative equivalent of that antique Mexican dish called posole, a savory stew of corn, meat and spices.
You can endure the rhetorical element in the novel – the narrator himself points out that in Mexico “we mistake rhetoric for reality” – if you recognize it as part of the narrator’s characteristic way of talking about the world, the same tendency that eventually gets him to lose his head. And it’s that head itself, which you meet at the beginning, that gives you a neat horizon point as you read along, knowing that at any moment Josué will lose it.
Still, the rhetoric seems to be the fat on the meat in this stew, and I wish Señor Fuentes had trimmed it away. With that layer still present, the novel seems merely an interesting story. Without it most readers would have declared the leaner book absolutely brilliant. Who doesn’t want to get lost (and then found again) in a taut drama about the power politics and soulful fate of a great if tormented country?