You know: in a foolish, undiscriminating way, I've been happy these last few months. I don't know why. I just am. I love my friends; I love my pupils; I love what I read; I -- dammit -- love my thoughts. I love the taste of oranges.
Thornton Wilder in a letter to Gertrude Stein, Aug 14, 1936

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Bad Nature, or With Elvis in Mexico (Pearls)Bad Nature, or With Elvis in Mexico by Javier Marías
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is what happens when you commit an irreversible act.

Our Spanish hero is picking up piecework in 1960's Hollywood, when he gets something of a break. Elvis Presley is on his way to Mexico to film Fun in Acapulco, and for some reason he has decided it is necessary that he have a true Castillian, rather than a Mexican, accent for his role. Our hero is hired as voice coach, flown to Acapulco, and enters the wonderland that is Hollywood on location. Although he is not able to improve The King's Spanish a great deal, it hardly matters. The Spanish he speaks in the film amounts to little more than, "Buenos dias, muchachos," or "Follow me, my four amigos." But Elvis takes a liking to our narrator and draws him into the inner entourage that after a day of filming hops in a private plane and flies off to whatever restaurant or strip joint has been recommended that day.

One night things do not go well. And since this is a Javier Marias story, much of what goes wrong has to do with language. The narrator finds himself stuck with diplomatically translating the insults that begin to fly between some Mexican gangsters and some asshole moneyman from the Midwest. Civility breaks down, and anything beyond that would be a spoiler. I will just say that although the narrator knows the events occurred forty years ago, he still feels he can never return to Mexico. And as for Fun in Acapulco, the official studio line is that the entire film was shot on sound stages in Burbank.

Bad Nature is fifty-five pages long, elegantly published as a New Direcctions Pearl, a new series of short works from an international list of authors. I finished it wondering two things. How can anyone pull off a 400 word sentence with 32 commas? And, when is Javier Marias going to win the Nobel Prize?

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