Here’s a collection of stories with a rather unusual theme. Mexico isn’t just the place where the action takes place in these tales. Rather, it’s as if Mexico – sunny, exotic, mysterious and occasionally slightly dangerous – is yet another character in each of the tales.
There are 18 stories here, by authors such as Stephen Crane, Jack Kerouac, Anaís Nin, Tennessee Williams, Patricia Highsmith and Graham Greene. With those kinds of names you can at least rely on the pedigree of the material.
Some of the characters are in Mexico to find themselves. Others are here to lose themselves. As the editor, Sara Nicklés, mentions in her introduction, “The characters in these tales are both seeking something special in Mexico and leaving something behind. A couple starts a business, another couple resumes an affair. A man runs from the law; a woman flees with a gangster’s money. Tourists look for bargains; an adventurer hunts for exotic plants… ” and so on “Some are trying to forget sadness, while others are pursuing an endless fiesta.”
Thus, Somerset Maugham encounters a mysterious character from his own European past in Vera Cruz. In David Lida’s story, “The Recruiting Officer”, we get a glimpse of the undercover world of CIA agents in the U.S. embassy in Mexico City. In Sandra Scofield’s “A Chance to See Egypt,” a lone American tourist in a small village near Tapalpa finds himself stranded for a night and is invited into a humble Mexican family home. It’s not quite the most relaxing night of his life.
At first, for this reader the stories had a feeling of “sameness”. They almost all involve people encountering Mexico in one way or another. But after I’d read a few of them I realized that Mexico is an actual character in each story – in some cases the main character. It’s as if the action couldn’t take place anywhere else. The reading became more interesting once I had that in mind.
Mexico may be a close neighbor of the U.S. but no one can deny the huge amount of differences between the two countries. And I must confess, when I look at the United States’ other neighbor, my own country, Canada, I can’t imagine an anthology of stories such as this where outsiders go north and experience the “otherness” of the place – or themselves, too, in quite the way they do here. Maybe we should all appreciate that Mexico is as close as it is but that it can be so different.
The thought also occurs to me that, living here in the Lake Chapala area, as I do, I’m surrounded by people who have also come to Mexico as a form of escape – either from a higher cost of living, or long cold winter months or whatever. Myself included. And of course I wonder if our experiences are as valid as the experiences of the characters in “Escape to Mexico”. Might we residents of the Lakeside area find ourselves the subjects of an anthology or even a novel or two someday? I’ll wait and see.
If I have one caveat about this volume, it is that out of the 18 stories, 13 are extracts from novels. That doesn’t affect their quality. However, the structure of some of the tales feels different in many cases simply because the reader doesn’t actually experience the real beginning of the story nor its end. Often, we’re merely reading incidents that don’t quite have the feel of more formally constructed short stories. However, given the premise of this collection, I suppose that’s acceptable.
Just a note about Ms Nicklés. She’s the editor of other anthologies which all have intriguing titles, like Drinking, Smoking and Screwing; Lying, Cheating and Stealing and Wine Memories. I must keep an eye out for those volumes.
In my humble O:An interesting collection of looks at an interesting character – Mexico itself.
Escape to Mexico
– An anthology of great fiction
Edited by Sara Nicklés
Chronicle Books, 2002
Available from Amazon Books: Paperback