Whenever an anthology bears within its title "Best of," one might have a natural inclination to question whether or not the anthologist(s) really knows what s/he is talking about. Add to that title the name of the country of origin and the challenge becomes even more, as not does the anthology editor have to demonstrate cause for bestowing the label of "Best of" on a collection of works from a single country, but the reader almost has to be quite aware of the fiction being produced in the given country in order to be able to evaluate properly the breadth and depth of the editor(s)' chosen pieces. I was sent a review copy of Álvaro Uribe and Olivia Sear's forthcoming Best of Contemporary Mexican Fiction bilingual anthology by another reviewer in large part due to my familiarity with very recent (post-2000) Latin American literature and my evaluation of this anthology will touch upon this awareness.
Uribe (Sears headed up the team of translators of these sixteen short stories) has certainly assembled a fine set of stories written by prominent Mexican short fiction writers born since the end of World War II. In his introduction, Uribe discusses the cosmopolitan nature of Mexican fiction, short and long alike, and how Spanish, French, and other Latin American writers have influenced the evolution of the Mexican short fiction. Interestingly (but not surprising, if one knows the complex history between these two nations), the United States is not cited (I will return to this at the end of this review). As a result of this tendency to look outside of Mexico's political boundaries for literary influences, these stories do not contain many uniting features, as Uribe notes:
Nothing unites them beyond the quality of their work and the essential, if not exactly literary, criteria of having produced their work, by happenstance or design, in the strain of Spanish common to the majority of Mexicans and of living or having lived in Mexico for most of their lives.Uribe has ordered these stories in a reverse chronological order, beginning with "Lukin's Bed," written by Vivian Abenshushan (b. 1972) and concluding with Héctor Manjarrez's (b. 1945) "The End of the World." Uribe does this in order to take an inductive examination of Mexican short fiction, taking the reader from the more contemporary issues of Mexico's analogue to Generation X and stretching it back to the dawn of what would be the Boomer Generation in the United States. It is an interesting approach, one that allowed for some opportunity to show the diverse strains of Mexican fiction without the need to establish an artificial schema for evaluating these stories.
The stories themselves are almost uniformly strong. In particular, Ana García Bergua's "Los conservadores"/"The Preservers" struck me for its juxtapositioning of the Odd (a widow keeping her husband's embalmed corpse with her for years, dressing and undressing it according to the daily rhythms of the household) and the Mudane (the examination of the various relationships between the characters of aunt/nephew, nephew/girlfriend, girlfriend/corpse). Enrique Serna's "Tesoro viviente"/"Living Treasure" was a very subtle examination of motivation and temptation, with an ending that is all the more damning for how little things changed once the resident writer main character made her fateful decision.
While each of these stories are worthy of inclusion in "Best of"-style anthologies, I could not help but notice what was not included in this otherwise fine anthology. Where were the rising authors? Outside of Abenshushan and Álvaro Enrigue (b. 1969), there were no authors under the age of 40 included here; apparently this is an anthology for the truly-established authors. Strikingly, none of Mexico's Crack Manifesto members (Pedro Ángel Palou, Eloy Urroz, Ignacio Padilla, Ricardo Chávez Castañeda, Jorge Volpi) were included in this anthology and many of their works (especially those of Padilla and Volpi) have already begun to make their mark in international markets, including that of the United States. Perhaps it simply is a matter of their short fiction not being as well-known or regarded as their novels. However, Uribe's introduction fails to acknowledge them or the related South American McOndoist literary movement in his discussion of trends and authors that have influenced Mexican fiction, so perhaps it is something more.
Related to this is the question of how to evaluate the near-absence of Mexico's neighbor (and often antagonistic trading partner) the United States in these tales. While it certainly is true that Mexican writers drew their influences from Spain, France, and other parts of Latin America from the 19th century to the past twenty years before American culture became more influential in both Mexico and other regions of Latin America, one has to question whether or not these tales truly represent the most "contemporary" of Mexican attitudes, much less its fiction. This seeming lack of space devoted to addressing the issues and authors of "right now" however is but only a damper on what is otherwise an excellent, rich, diverse collection of stories that hopefully will inspire readers to dig deeper into Mexico's very rich literary tradition.
Publication Date: February 26, 2009 (US). Tradeback, Hardcover.
Publisher: Dalkey Archive Press