Sunday, May 27, 2007

"The Virgin's Guide to Mexico"

Eric B. Martin is the author of the novels Luck and Winners, which was a finalist for the Northern California Book Award.

His new novel is The Virgin's Guide to Mexico, to which he applied the "page 69 test" and then reported the following:
Page 69 is the eye of the storm.

By the time we get there, our young heroine — Alma Price, age 17, Texas runaway — has been humiliated, hunted, nearly raped. She’s disguised herself as a boy, survived Mexican cops and whorehouses, been unmasked by a transvestite, spoken with ghosts.

Soon she will be in Mexico City, racing through lost cities in the subway, facing down private eyes in the rock n’ roll market, snorting cocaine with the big city literati. Soon her parents will tangle with wild pigs and peyote lords, rich kids and street vendors, as they try to bring her back.

But right now: calm. The air is hot and still. The hunt for her roots — her father’s Texan, her mother’s Mexican, but never spoke about her past — has brought her here, to a little town called Bustamonte.

There is a moment in every chase when the pursued and the pursuer come to rest. They stop moving, and look around, and in that moment all the ordinary colors of the world pulse with unexpected life. The small beauty of existence comes briefly clear. Happiness seems possible, even assured. There is a moment in every chase where the pursued and the pursuer realize that they have found what they were looking for, but it’s not what they expected, and the great machinery of desire is still in motion, and the chase must go on.

Alma might be disguised as a boy; she might be looking for her grandfather; she might be searching for an identity she’s never had as a rich, Harvard-bound girl from Austin, Texas. But for right here, right now, at this family barbeque where a random hitchhiked ride has landed her, Alma is content:

Family stories flow. What would if be like to have a history of one thousand relatives from both sides of the border who all knew each other’s names and faults and business? For all Alma knows they’re out there. Not in the burnt out shell of Nuevo but in the elephantine heart of Mexico. This could be mine, she thinks.

Meeting the family, huh? Lalo and Cristobal materialize when her new friends disappear.

Everyone’s really nice,

Cristobal snorts and snores. Dull ain’t just a river in Egypt.

Man’s jealous, Lalo confides. He leans in close and Alma breathes in at least fifty hours of consecutive beer. Always wanted to fuck our cousins.

They say cousins fair game now, says Cristobal.

Mexico ever said otherwise? They who?


Yeah, well. Too late, What is that, a Coke?

Yep, says Alma.

That’s what I mean, Cristobal complains, he’s over with the Coke and baby crowd.

With a flick of his wrist, Lalo produces a beer like a magician’s dove. Emborráchate, kid. They clink bottles and he watches until he takes a shallow altar sip. That’s better.

And then the chase goes on.
Check out Eric B. Martin's website to read the novel's first line, its last word, and a favorite paragraph.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue