Kimi Traube, Translator
This volume of Juan Villoro's is subtitled "Stories," but nothing could be further from the truth. For he writes pure poetry, and disguises it as prose. And these epics have a further distinction of making some of us Mexicophiles uneasy. I've lived there for years, and it is as if Villoro has been following me around. He writes of the Yucatán, and Oaxaca, and Mexico City and the Frontera --- all places I've haunted --- especially that gorgeous scary highway between Mexicali and Tecate, known as La Rumorosa.
Those of us who have traveled Route 20 are not only knocked out by the huge pink boulders that grow willy-nilly out of the Martian landscape (summer temperature: +110°F. record low: -10°F.), but are often bemused by the artwork at the bottom of the gullies 200 - 300 feet down: pure wreckage. Cars, trucks, busses, crumpled and mushed together in a testimony to the impossible curves of the highway, the impossible gales, the impossible drops on either side of one of the most dangerously travelled thoroughfares in Mexico. Villoro writes,
On the way to Mexicali, I went through La Rumorosa, a mountain pass where the wind blows so hard it flips trucks. Looking down from the cliffs, I could see the remains of crashed cars at the bottom. I felt a weird kind of peace. A place for things to end. A place to end my career.
Guilty is pith and at the same time, rich narrative verse. In these seven stories, Villoro tells the usual stuff of 21st Century life in the fast lane. A script for a movie that he is supposed to have written; getting a priest to baptise his Chevrolet on St. Christopher's day; an iguana that gets loose in it, eating the brake cables; a police officer who quotes Buñuel; the feng shui of his love Karla; helping border crossers in the desert with I. V. bags; working for a water company; a flight arriving too late to make its connection:
- The captain's voice has been replaced by landing music. We circle, miles above the ground, all of us watching the clock. How many flights will be missed on this flight? If the music were different we wouldn't worry as much. In some distant office, someone decided it was good to land to the beat of astral gypsies. And maybe it is. The discord of modernity and oranges. Music meant for arriving, not for waiting indefinitely with gates closing below.
Further notable quotes:
It's just one of those things where we want to fill the review solely with quotes, but we'll stop with just one more [vide., the breath-taking twister below].
- In Mani, I checked out the car while they drank horchatas. The iguana had made a hole in the back of the rear seat. From there, it got into the chassis and made its way to the motor. The animal represented my karma, my aura, my very being. It was also gnawing holes in my car.
- She quoted phrases from the script with such frequency that when she said, "God is a concept by which we measure our pain," I thought it was something that I had written. She had to explain, with humiliating pedantry, that she was quoting John Lennon.
- He [the policeman] shook his head from side to side; the gesture suggested coke or amphetamines. "Do you remember that one that Buñuel did where two chicks are just one chick? They're both hot as hell, but they're different, they don't look a damn thing alike, but an old guy mixes them up, that's how fucked up he is. And neither of them give it up. Those damn girls get hotter and hotter. It's like the old guy was seeing double. It makes you want to be as confused as him. That's surrealism, right? It'd be frickin' cool to live all surrealist?" He paused and after a deep sigh, asked me, "So what was it, what was Maestro Buñuel into?"
"He liked martinis."
- "How violent is Mexico City, really?"
I remembered something Burroughs wrote to Kerouac or Ginsberg or some other big time addict who wanted to come to Mexico but was scared he'd get jumped.
"Don't worry: Mexicans only kill their friends."
- On the flight back they gave us tomato salad and Cata told me about a trick of the trade she'd heard from the porn star. He ate lots of tomatoes because it improved the taste of his semen. The female porn stars appreciated it. I was intrigued. Did that kind of courtesy really exist in porn? I ate the tomatoes off of my plate and hers, but when we got back to Mexico she said she was dead tired and didn't want to blow me,
In the meantime, get Guilty, (get guilty!) . . . for here you have Hunter Thompson without the drug-stained hyperbole, Thomas Wolfe without the elegant sarcasm, Truman Capote without the self-destruct, Norman Mailer without the drunken brawls, Gay Talese, Jimmy Breslin, Joan Didion ... and Roberto Bolaño. Any writer who can mix iguanas with the drinking habits of Buñuel plus quotes from John Lennon, blended with a fine impatience at the absurd glorification of English ("The planet had turned into a new Babel where nobody could understand anybody else, but the important thing was to not understand anybody else in English") --- anyone who can jumble these wild cards all in one book (and make them work) deserves anything we can give him.
And let me offer you the last, probably my favorite quote from The Guilty. It manages to stuff a certain improbable turn-of-the-century media star into less than 100 words.
I think about O. J. Simpson before the murder accusation, back when he shone as a desperate success known to devour yards on the football field and in ads where he was about to miss a plane. I liked that about airports. They only have internal tension. Everything exterior is erased. You have to run in pursuit of a gate. That's it. Your destination is called "Gate 6." O. J. was made for that, to run far away from intercepted phone calls, broken love, empty glances, bloodied clothes.