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A Mexico book by Ron Hansen

Reviewed by Allan Cogan

Atticus Cody is a 67 year old Colorado rancher. He’s a very successful straight-shooting kind of guy. He has a son, Scott, who is a painter, evidently talented. He has gone to Mexico and is out of touch with his father. Atticus cares: Scott doesn’t seem to be concerned.

When the story opens, Atticus has learned about Scott’s death, by suicide, in a place called Resurrección, near Cancun. Atticus goes to Resurrección to pick up his son’s body and return it to Colorado. There he meets up with the cast of characters who knew Scott, most of whom are, at best, hippies and bohemians, at worst, drifters and fugitives.

Here’s Scott musing about his acquaintances in Resurrección:

“You could find us haunting the centro at five a.m., walking car wrecks and homicides, waiting for the cantinas to open again and looking away from each other because we hated seeing that face in the mirror. You heard all kinds of reasons for being in the tropics: for their arthritis, their pensions, the fishing, the tranquil and easygoing ways, but the fact was a lot of us stayed because Mexico treated us like children, indulging our laziness, shrugging at our foolishness, and generally offering the silence and tolerance of a good butler helping the blotto Lord What-a-waste to his room.”

Shortly after arriving in town Atticus makes the discovery that Scott has been murdered. He didn’t commit suicide.

We also discover as the story unfolds that Atticus and Scott never had a good relationship. A possible reason is that Scott was the driver in a car accident that took the life of his mother, Atticus’s wife, although the bad blood seems to have started before then.

Then, just as we seem to be starting into a murder mystery we make the discovery that Scott isn’t dead – the body belongs to one of Scott’s previous acquaintances, a drifter named Reinhardt, who looked very much like Scott.

So if all of this sounds interesting and alive with action, I wish that I could report it as being so. However, I have to confess that only a sense of duty got me through this one. I personally found it jumbled and not quite sure of what it wanted to be – a family drama, a mystery story or a new version of the prodigal son story.

I must explain why I’m sounding so hesitant and defensive in discussing this book. It’s simply that, like most books, it comes with a raft of glowing comments from all the best reviewers. On the covers of Atticus, they’re particularly lavish. They go on and on about the novelist’s “awesome gifts” and the “astonishing imagery.”

Also, I’ll confess that my puzzlement persuaded me to look to see what the reader/reviewers in had to say about it. There are about 50 of them and at least 45 are raves. My favorite is Amy, who claimed that she actually hugged the book when she finished it.

I might also add that I belong to a book club here in Ajijic. We have a couple of dozen members and we discuss our reading every week and share our books. Most of the members also loved Atticus.

So it was a surprise to find I simply didn’t like it, that I found the writing overdone and, at times, even bordering on the hysterical. But it’s the kind of literary prose that does impress many readers and reviewers.

The plot device of having two characters be a couple of lookalikes, even to the point of other characters not knowing which one had been murdered seemed to me just plain corny. There are other places, too, where the author obviously steps into the plot to keep the rather labored narrative moving.

Even though it has a Mexican setting and a few characters, you’re not likely to learn much about the country from this novel. Even though there’s a murder, there is no sense of any police investigation happening – not even a Mexican police investigation. Hansen uses Spanish dialog quite well and always translates what the characters say but that’s about the only local atmosphere that this novel generates.

Verdict: Different strokes for different folks. You might be like Amy and want to hug it. I’ll be content just to forget it.


Book Cover - Atticus

A novel by Ron Hansen

Harper paperback, 1996

Available from Amazon Books: Paperback

Published or Updated on: February 1, 2000 by Allan Cogan © 2000
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