It is days after the Mexican holiday Dia de Los Muertos and you’re still upset about that one new shade that walks amongst the cheerless dead. And he’s Mexican, a writer, a diplomat, a public intellectual…no, check that, a global intellectual whose leftist leaning alienated him from the adoration of the 1%, and whose charm, elegance, generosity, and grace alienated him from progressives and anarchists alike.
You muse upon your personal relationship with him, CARLOS FUENTES (Carlos Fuentes Macias, 1928–2012), born in Panama City, (outside Mexico, an augural aside, more below); you had run across him in graduate school and you TAed for him one magic semester in the mid ’80s and this literary maven, articulate and Hollywood-dashing, opted to reach out and change your life — the gods will surprise you that way.
Fuentes was an insider whilst always outside, a self-exiled, bon vivant lover of Marx (Karl and Groucho), Cervantes, Mexico, and Latin America. You recall his love of the anecdote, the magnificent way in lecture he fused las historias de america latina with the voice of Marlowe, the cunning of Kurtz. You muse on his range and reach for some comparisons: The Mexican Gore Vidal? But that’s not really close, as Vidal’s novels, clever and tart, never really made the cut for 1st-team world literature (they were both master essayists, but who reads those anymore). You look in your library and Aura (Fuentes’ masterful retelling of Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard, filtered through E.T.A. Hoffman, Edgar Allen Poe, and Leonora Carrington) reaches out to you — she’s lovely and haunting. The Death of Artemio Cruz, Christopher Unborn, and his monumental Terra Nostra bend the shelves. You think of other literary masters like Joyce, Faulkner, and García Márquez, who Fuentes adored and with whose shades he now walks.
You’re happy, now. Using the 2nd person voice, a theft from Aura, as you remember Fuentes’ late career renaissance — forever touted as a frontrunner for the Nobel Prize that never graced his shelves, haunted himself by the shades of his two beautiful children who passed beyond before he did (always the worst, killing curse), he answers the pain and the disappointment with narrative, with story: his Crystal Frontier, from 1996, redefining the border between Mexico and the United States with a touch that perhaps only Orson Welles (Touch of Evil) and Americo Paredes (With His Pistol in His Hand) achieved.
You think of the irony of a “Mexican” writer who spent most of his life outside Mexico — the annual guest professorships at Harvard, Yale, Cornell, what-have-you, the cool garret/flat off Earl’s Court in London. Born outside Mexico yet its favorite son of the 20th century, this dashing literary rogue rewrites the moment and single-handedly deconstructs Mexico and “Mexico” for a world audience.
You reflect on your debt — you see it in that last sentence.
READ MORE about members of the Postmodernist Generation (1924-33).