BOOKS AND THE CULTURE Gonzales, Crumley Rethink Myths Austin LAURENCE GONZALES started his career writing about the rock and roll scene and then the international world of modern heavy-duty narcotics Here, he tries to till one of storytelling’s most fertile fields, the Mexican Revolution. The novel is two stories in one; its hero, El Vago, Agustin, is trailing a wild horse on the government proving grounds at Alamogordo in 1945 with his grandson and, to pass the time of day, is relating to the boy his experiences fighting alongside Villa and Zapata during the Mexican revolution. The first story is a minor one, and would have been better left untold, since Gonzales’ real story is the Mexican Revolution. He has the major facts straight, the constitutinal push for Madero, the betrayal and assassination of Madero by Huerta, and then the combined strategies of Obregon, Carranza, Villa, and Zapata that eventually overthrew Huerta, leaving, however, the ineffectual Carranza in his place, which doomed Mexico to another half dozen years of bloodletting. Gonzales writes well and holds the reader’s interest, but he has bitten off a subject too large for himself. The novel suffers for not having a point of view other than the grandfather’s, who rode with Villa first out of accident, then out of banditry, and finally for the revolution. Villa, for Gonzales, is simply a shrewd, reckless bandit with uncanny marksmanship and an ability to elude the federales. He refers to Villa throughout the book by a totally fictional boyhood name of “Doroteo.” Paul Foreman’s latest novel is Quanah, The Serpent Eagle. By Paul Foreman Only when El Vago reaches Zapata does Gonzales find the one sympathetic character in the whole revolution. His over-idealized Zapata is at odds both with the record, and with the caricatures of the other major figures. Gonzales would have done well to read Martin Luis Guzman’s The Eagle and the Serpent, still the best single account of the personalities of the revolution. Guzman, with the description of the EL VAGO By Laurence Gonzales Atheneum 309 pp., $16.95 DANCING BEAR By James Crumley Random House 228 pp., $12.95 vagaries of the paths of bullets in wounded men at the hospital at Culiacan, tells more in a dozen pages about the brutality and violence of such a civil war than all of Gonzales. And there is nothing in El Vago to compare with Guzman’s description of Rodolfo Fierro gunning down prisoners ten at a time as they try to flee over a wall. Gonzales has a gold mine of stories at his feet in telling of the Mexican revolution, but in a reverse of Rumplestiltskin, he weaves the gold back into straw. His weaver, the grandfather storyteller, and the grandson get lost in a night thunderstorm, discover where the horse has trampled a jaguar, and witness before they return home the fireball of the first atomic bomb test. This is known as “throwing in the kitchen sink” when one doesn’t know how to end a story. So El Vago, set in Old and New Mexico, remains a hybrid, cut off from the wellsprings of reality which could have given the story substance. The truer picture of Villa, Zapata, and the rest, and the men who rode with them remains Guzman’s The Eagle and the Serpent, easily obtainable in Harriet Onis’ excellent translation for the Doubleday Anchor series. JAMES CRUMLEY, one of Texas’ better novelists, is rethinking some myths of his own in this third of his Milodragovitch detective series, Dancing Bear. He starts his story with a folktale of the Benniwah Indian tribe in Montana. The Beniwah may be an amalgam of the Kutenai, the Bannock, and the Assinoboin, but I suspect few readers of the book have ever heard of them before. An ersatz tribe, an ersatz myth, and one that bears little relationship to the story, apart from the fact that Crumley’s lovable detective, Milo, gives back three thousand acres of prime timberland to the tribe before the novel ends. The antagonists in this novel are shadowy, almost as if the author is fighting ghosts in his own psyche. Even Milo’s sidekick, Simmons, remains a nameless ex-Vietnam vet throughout most of the book, who gets blown away senselessly at the end. One has only to compare him to the beautifully delineated Joe Morning in Crumley’s One To Count Cadence, to see how far Crumley’s own myth has degenerated. His main character, Milodragovitch, has seen better times and days, too, in the fine earlier books, The Wrong Case and The Last Good Kiss. Here, the women are all wrong; they fill the bill for nubility, will 18 OCTOBER 14, 1983
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