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Gringos Paperback – May 1, 2000
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From Library Journal
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Charles Portis is perhaps the most original, indescribable sui generis talent overlooked by literary culture in America. -- Ron Rosenbaum, Esquire
Top Customer Reviews
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!
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.
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.
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.