Happy Families: Stories Hardcover – Sep 23 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
This collection by celebrated Mexican author Fuentes (The Eagle's Throne) treks a wide swath of Mexican history, encompassing revolutions won and brutally suppressed, evolving sexual mores and economic upheaval. While all kinds of relationships are explored—lovers and friends, mothers and daughters, sisters and brothers—the most revealing of Fuentes's work are father-son stories. In The Disobedient Son, a father demands that his sons become priests to honor their dead mother; The Official Family posits a fictional president of Mexico who controls fiercely his own passions by imposing limits on his wayward boy; and in The Star's Son, a fading movie star takes belated responsibility for a son with a crippling disability. Interspersed with short chapters of free-form poetry that turn an unflinching eye on homelessness, sexual abuse, gangs and drugs, Fuentes's urgent stories make clear that Mexico is too full of life and tragedy to be controlled or constrained. Desperately holding the turbulence still for a moment, Fuentes examines closely hard lives in an unforgiving place. (Oct.)
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“Completely captivating and entertaining, with Fuentes’s superb style (exciting language that snaps with fervency) and his trademark characterizations dancing off the page.”—Booklist
“[Fuentes has a] masterful ability to evoke the sounds, smells, sights and mythic history of his native land.”—Seattle Times
“A kaleidoscope of indelible images . . . Fuentes gives poignant voice to the many denizens of Mexico’s streets.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“What makes this collection a joy to read is that each tale is riveting and crucial to the book’s tapestry as a whole. . . . The translation by Edith Grossman [is] a towering achievement that well serves Mr. Fuentes’s witty, ironic and often experimental play with language.”— Washington Times
From the Trade Paperback edition.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
"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.