10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
Benjamin Disraeli once wrote, "Those who have known grief seldom seem sad." (Endymion). The publisher of "Happy Families" described this book as an exploration of the great Russian storyteller, Tolstoy's observation that "all happy families are alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." (The opening line in "Anna Karenina") The sixteen short stories and sixteen poems all relate to unhappiness and sorrow in the family. The title of the book was not just a paradox; it was also a hint that the stories were founded on paradoxical events. The father in "A Family like No Other" was named "Pastor Pagan", an honest man who worked in a corrupt company and forced into retirement, but really, was dismissed, for showing up the dishonesty around him. His son ended up working for his father's boss. His sister couldn't face reality except by gazing at the films on the television; his mother, a bolero singer so burdened by emptiness in her family's life that singing became at once her relief and her prison.
"Mater Dolores" was a riveting story told through an exchange of correspondence between a woman, Vanina, and the man, Jose Nicasio, who ravished and killed her daughter. She wrote to Jose (who was serving time in prison) to understand why it had happened to her daughter; driven by a desire that could only form in a mother in her situation. The reader should note the unusual punctuation. When a paragraph begins "Senora Vanina:" it would be Jose writing to her and conversely, when it starts "Jose Nicasio:" it would be Vanina writing to him. However, the author broke from this pattern in the penultimate paragraph when he wrote "Jose Nicasio," using the comma instead of the colon.
In "Conjugal Ties" Fuentes compressed the deepest paradox of freedom in the form of enslavement, and love in the form of torture. The "Mariachi's Mother" was probably one of the most tragic and sorrowful tales in the collection. An honest boy who sings in a mariachi band was arrested for the fraud committed by his fellow band members. He was released without charge only because the police wanted to use him as an undercover agent on account of his good looks and innocent demeanour. One day, his group of undercover policemen were identified by the townsfolk and set upon. Two of the police were killed and the others including the boy were beaten up; the boy was hit so hard his vocal chord snapped and he was not able to speak after that. As it happened, his mother, Dona Medea Batalla, had been drawn out of her house by the commotion and so found herself carried by the mob to the scene when the attack on the police began. Dona Medea took her son home to nurse him, and prayed for him. Eventually, he recovered his voice. That was the end of the story, which was also the start of the plot. Puentes began the story with the scene of Dona Medea naked (save for a diaper to contain her incontinence) in a police cell. She had been arrested with many of the residents who attacked the police the day her son was felled by the same mob.
Some of the stories were a little more tragic-comic. "The Discomfiting Brother" was one of them. It was a story of a wealthy and successful man whose wayward, trampy brother paid him an unexpected visit after a sixty year absence. We are compelled to wonder whether the ambitious charge to succeed socially and financially, was a virtue or a corruption of virtue. "How could I believe in the good with a diabolical brother like you?" That question was asked by the tramp brother. "Sweethearts" was a story more bitter than sweet. It will move hearts that have find lost love yet were neither able to relive the past nor change the course for the future. That was the story of Manuel who, in his twilight years found himself on the same cruise ship as his childhood love, Lucy, now a grandmother. "Is the wait for love to come more tortured than sadness for love that was lost?" Manuel asked. "If it's any comfort to you, let me say that it's nice to love someone we couldn't have only because with that person we were a promise and will keep being one forever..." Manuel promised.
With these delightful short stories Fuentes seemed to understand what the Russians have been writing all along. It was no wonder that a book about "Happy Families" was in fact a book about unhappy ones. Chekov reminded us that "the happy man feels good only because the unhappy bear their burden silently" and that sooner or later we will have our turn of unhappiness. When that time comes, no one will care for if they did, they too would be unhappy ("Gooseberries", 2000 Bantam Books). It is just like the way madness weaves in and out of the slim, porous coat of sanity.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
The late great Carlos Fuentes, may be an author that that you either love or hate but you should read him so that you have an opinion. There is one thing that cannot be denied and that is his brilliance and eloquent prose. The esoteric Latin American author, Mexico's gift to the world of literature, evokes controversy because his narrative is rarely without controversial subjects and political stances with a dash of his own ideology. That said this book is like many of his works of art, most of which I have read in either Spanish or English, sometimes in both, in that he stirs the imagination and takes the reader on a journey exploring history, literature, art, science, religion, wars, scandals, myth and political themes, in an endless stream-of-thought-conciousness that weaves effortlessly and the stories bind tightly. Senor Fuentes pieces together this collection of stories that give us glimpes of our own history, our own families, the hidden truths that are rarely revealed because we are all wearing masks to show only the identity of who we want people to see. When the hidden truths are revealed in happy families, as in our own families they may no longer appear so normal or happy but rather unhappy, hence the title Happy Families is really about unhappy families. Carlos Fuentes always challenges his readers to follow the course, his discourse on life, his forum on his stage, his unique and always brilliant and provocative presentation , like a professor who includes his views on a subject only Senor Fuentes presents multiple subjects that jump time frames and settle into the written word of the story he is weaving. Like a complex spiders web, that is strong but nearly hidden to it's prey, Carlos Fuentes invites you to come closer and then becomes caught in his web; the stories then captivate and devour you the reader. I found myself relating to some of the stories, as though they were people either I or my family who had encountered them in life, or was it in a dream? It is nearly without merit to explain the stories because the only explanation is that there is none; explanation that is, because your own life experiences and how you relate to these stories are part of your own happy families. Besides it would be a spoiler to reveal to many details. The happy families are not just the traditional familes but rather the extended families and if you read this book you too will be a part of Carlos Fuentes extended family. As I do for all of his books I recommmend this book. It is not as challenging as some of his other books, like Terra Nostra for example, but just as entertaining.If you have never read a Carlos Fuentes book this might be the place to jump in, join me and countless others; I know I'm all in.
2 of 9 people found the following review helpful
James F. Pierce MD
- Published on Amazon.com
I've been an avid fan of Fuentes for years. This is a disconnected, disappointing presentation by this great author.