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Gringos by Charles Portis

Reviewed by Allan Cogan

I wish I liked this book better, then I would write a more positive review. Trouble is I just couldn't find any saving graces in Gringos.

So why write a review at all? Good question. However, I see such glowing comments printed on the book itself from various writers and reviewers. Maybe I'm wrong. There's all the usual stuff, like: "Original, quirky, exciting…" Or: "Some of the funniest writing produced anywhere…." And: "A glimpse of how a 20th century Mark Twain might write…." And so on. Are my tastes so far out of line with all those other reviewers?

I don't really know. All I know is it was a struggle to pick up and read Gringos. I just wasn't getting anything out of it.

The story concerns Jimmy Burns who has gone to live in Mexico. I'll call him the protagonist. No one would ever call him the "hero" of the tale. He's a most unmemorable character. Jimmy maintains himself doing odd jobs, buying and selling artifacts and working with people on archeological projects in various parts of the country. He runs into many characters throughout the novel - not one of them being in the least way memorable or even interesting. Jimmy himself isn't all that interesting. He doesn't even seem to give a hoot about the opposite sex, even though he is pursued by some creature named Louise. Before you've gone very far into the book you're asking yourself the question: When is something going to happen? It's true that Jimmy does go on some kind of quest in the Mexican jungle looking for a missing friend. That keeps the narrative moving somewhat and I won't give any plot secrets away in this review.

I should mention in all fairness that I took a look at places like Amazon.com and a couple of other comprehensive book websites to see what other readers were saying about Gringos. There were plenty more of those comments such as: "One of the most enjoyable reads I can recall." And "communicates to us the narrator's extraordinary compassion for a cast of misfits and losers."

I should also add that in Amazon.com there was one quite lengthy negative review. That at least did something for my self-confidence. I'll quote a small piece of it.

" Gringos is chock full of characters who do nothing to really distinguish themselves, and so about 100 pages in the reader starts to confuse Rudy, Roland, Doc Ritchie, Doc Flandin, Eli, Skinner, and a bunch of other male characters, together with a slew of unmemorable females such as Gail, Louise, Alma and Beth." And that's only a tiny part of that reader's comments.

As an aside, I can't help being puzzled as to why Amazon would publish such a review when they're in the business of selling books. I thought those Amazonians were smarter than that. However, that's not my business.

You might ask why I'm going on so about a book I didn't enjoy. I guess my response is that I feel that in a website like Mexico Connect I should be writing reviews of books that tell you something about Mexico. Surely that's what most of us are looking for. And Gringos, despite the fact that it's set entirely in Mexico, doesn't tell you a damn thing about the country or the people. After reading about all the locals and dropouts and hippies and psychic happenings that populate this novel you're just no wiser.

In my humble O: if you're browsing through Mexico Connect to find out about this country and its people, Gringos isn't going to help you.

Gringos
By Charles Portis
The Overlook Press. 2000

Available from Amazon Books: Paperback

 

Published or Updated on: February 15, 2001 by Allan Cogan © 2008
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