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The Crystal Frontier


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Young Jose Francisco grows up in Texas, determined to write about the border world - the immigrants and illegals, Mexican poverty and Yankee prosperity - stories to break the stand-off silence with a victory shout, to shatter at last the crystal frontier.


Leonardo Barroso is an unscrupulous Mexican oligarch whose fortress of a villa is only a short drive from the "crystal frontier" of the title, and each one of the nine stories comprising this work explores the life of someone touched by him. There's Juan Zamora, whose medical studies at Cornell were made possible by the stratagems of Barroso; the beautiful Michelina from Mexico City, whom Barroso marries; off to his son and then takes as his own, and the working girls of Barroso's maquiladoras, who lust after the gringo male dancers of the clubs. The outrageous racism of Fuentes's Anglo characters, such as Miss Amy Dunbar and border patrol Dan Polonsky, may seem excessive and stereotyped, but it is also hard to deny that such attitudes exist along this troubled border. Fuentes masterfully interweaves Mexican politics, economics, and history within the individual stories, giving a brilliant update on relations between an extremely poor country and the richest in the world. A recent (1995) and highly recommended work by Mexico's premiere novelist.‘Jack Shreve, Allegany Community Coll., Cumberland, Md.

Though subtitled "a novel in nine stories," the nine pieces that make up Fuentes's latest are a bit too fragmented to warrant that description. True, their protagonists all share some connection to Leonardo Barroso, a powerful, somewhat shady Mexican businessman, but the real common thread‘a thin one‘is Fuentes's interest in intersections and miscommunications between the U.S. and Mexico. The book opens strongly enough, with "A Capital Girl," a tale of a young woman who falls in love with Barroso but marries his troubled son instead. Yet the second story‘about a young Mexican man who discovers his homosexuality while studying medicine at Cornell at Barroso's expense‘rings false in its depiction of American collegiate life. Indeed, for a book that seeks to depict the ways in which Americans misunderstand Mexicans and Mexico, there are a surprising number of stereotypes and clichés of life in the States. The most prominent offender is "Girlfriends," the heavy-handed story of a racist rich old Angla and her long-suffering Mexican servant. While the best entries here‘the moving "Malintzin Las Maquilas," about the difficult friendship among three exploited female factory workers, and the title story, an offbeat tale of a Mexican window washer's encounter with an American executive‘display Fuentes's rich imagination and subtle touch, too many of the characters and situations take a back seat to what are clearly didactic intentions. (Oct.)

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