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Gringos Paperback – May 1, 2000

4.1 out of 5 stars 37 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Portis's 1991 comic novel follows protagonist Jimmy Burns, who has expatriated to Mexico to live a quiet existence. Enter a female stalker, Mayan tomb-robbing archaeologists, UFO hunters, and a group looking for psychic happenings. Good, quirky fun.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Review

"I've always thought Charles Portis had a wonderful talent--original, quirky, exciting. It's an engaging, touching book. -- Larry McMurtry

Charles Portis is perhaps the most original, indescribable sui generis talent overlooked by literary culture in America. -- Ron Rosenbaum, Esquire
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 269 pages
  • Publisher: The Overlook Press; First Edition edition (May 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1585670936
  • ISBN-13: 978-1585670932
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #182,601 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By S. McHale on November 26, 2000
Format: Paperback
Disclaimer: This is my first Portis read, so I have no basis for comparison.
That being said, this is one of the most enjoyable reads I can recall. All the other Amazon reviewers have it right: it is a wonderful menagerie of characters as sized up by the narrator.
What I can add to the list of reviews is the striking parallels to Conrad's Heart of Darkness. You have an odd-job protagonist who, along with is unique travelling companions, goes on a strange journey into the Mexican jungle to search for a missing friend. Along the way, he encounters excesses in human behavior, archeological adventurers, cultists and hippies. At the end of his journey, he finds a self-styled Captain Kurtz-like character: a self-imposed spiritual shaman-cum-criminal. Note that this is not the character that the protagonist is tracking down, but it does lead to an unexpected climax. Of course, the journey really isn't the point to the novel. The point is to capture all the colorful personalities along the way - Portis succeeds marvelously!
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Format: Hardcover
The one constant in a Charles Portis novel is the tone: dry, deadpan, but never condescending. Often the tone serves as a buffer between the characters and the harsh, arbitrarily violent world around them. In Portis's first novel, _Norwood_, the strategy is largely successful, though in Portis's second and most famous novel, _True Grit_, violence assumes a fundamental place in the narrative.
Portis's latest novel, _Gringos_, about a group of American expatriates in Mexico, may be his most disturbing yet. Although it begins slowly, introducing us to a seemingly random menagerie of locals, dropouts, and hippies, the novel builds to a brutal, unforgettable climax in the remote Mexican jungle.
_Gringos_ is alternately funny and brutal, yet leaves an unexpectedly sweet aftertaste. It's a rollicking, adventurous masterpiece from one of America's finest living novelists.
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I have just completed a frenzy of reading Charles Portis novels, and I had found them all to be very good or very funny or both until I stumbled and almost fell with Gringos. This is one of those books you read and think everyone else understands but you because there really is a lot going on: there are a lot of characters, a wiley protagonist, and Portis got good blurbs on the back jacket. But I didn't get it, not this time. The characters are all classic Portis-wacky and larger than life yet still very real somehow-and the quest is classic Portis too, a journey into the jungle in search of an ancient Mayan codex, UFOs, space aliens, hippie outlaws, and runaway children. I mean, how can you go wrong with a plot like that?

The dialog is not as snappy as other Portis novels, and the characters (so many of them this time that I couldn't keep up) did things for reasons that I wasn't able to follow. I suspect that with a second read, additional details will pop out to make Gringos more intelligible. So if I "get it" with a second reading, I'll dial back in and change my rating.
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I picked this up largely because Portis's earlier book True Grit: A Novel is one of the best books I've read in the last twenty years, but also because the plot description sounded so crazy. The story follows Jimmy, a former looter of Mayan archaeological sites, now living the expatriate life in the Yucatan Peninsula, making ends meet hauling goods around, doing small deals, and sometimes running down missing Americans.

I couldn't quite work out when the book is supposed to be set, but it felt roughly like the mid-1970s to early '80s or thereabouts. The entire vibe reminded me of Thomas Pynchon's Inherent Vice: A Novel, as Jimmy stumbles into an array of strange situations, with a cast of wildly colorful characters. There's a half-arsed trek into the jungle, a group of dangerous drifters, a missing teenager, and some crackpots who swear by tall tales of aliens and UFOs visiting the Mayans.

There are lot of threads, a lot of characters, and a lot of fun language -- but it never really holds together. The stakes just aren't very clear, and while Jimmy is to uneven a character to really carry the wacky plotting. I kind of wonder if this is a book that just hasn't aged very well over the 25 years since it was published.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is the first Charles Portis novel I have read. In light of his seeming stelar reputation, I was disappointed and certainly hope the others are more satisfying. Yes, Portis has a good eye for Mexico, the interior Mexico ethos and character, and for gringo expatriates and "layabouts." The writing is leisurely, generally well crafted, goes down easily, and rings true with my own observations in the Yucatan and Chiapas.

However, the "story" of this book wanders and wanders, seemingly without purpose or direction, then pauses and wanders some more. It is also populated by an excessive number of very minor characters, most identified only by first name. In many instances, references to them are distracting, add passing color at the most, and are simply interruptions from the glacial progress of the main story line (whatever that might be). Portis seems more interested in mood, rather than story.

Reading this book is like walking down a side street and watching a mangy tomcat aimlessly poking around, then sometimes chasing its tail round and around and around, then falling asleep in the same spot it began. Oh yes, and then there are disparate herds of other street cats appearing from time to time and wandering about themselves, with no more apparent purpose than numero uno tomcat.

Despite Portis' descriptive skill as a writer, this aimlessness was unsatisfying and could hold this reader's attention only so long.
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