Book Review: Readings
Reviewed by Jay Trachtenberg, Fri., July 28, 2006
by Eloy Urroz
Dalkey Archive Press, 350 pp., $13.95 (paper)In 1996, when this debut novel was initially published, Mexican author Eloy Urroz was one of five writers who issued the rather provocative Crack Manifesto that declared literary independence from a Latin American tradition leaning heavily on magical realism. This collective of heady young writers wanted to explore and expand the possibilities of fiction, vowing to create more complex work often associated with the likes of Borges and Julio Cortazar in hopes of laying the groundwork for a new movement. Appearing in English for the first time, The Obstacles is clearly a shot across the bow. Urroz weaves a labyrinth of interconnected narratives involving two teenage writers, one living in Mexico City and the other in a small coastal town in Baja California. In alternating chapters, we follow urbanite Ricardo and his longing for a neighbor girl, while his counterpart to the north, the orphan Elias, obsesses over a local prostitute. Each struggles with a love that is unattainable and accounts for but a pair of the "obstacles" to love that permeate the book from a variety of angles. And while the all-too-lengthy pontifications over love and its excesses are a unifying element of sorts, it is the complicated, nonlinear unfolding of the story that is so impressive. Is it one writer creating all the other characters? Or, is the writer creating one character and reading the publications of another? Perhaps both writers are actually characters in each other's tale? What happens when the two writers finally meet? And what about this town of Las Remoras? The reader is continually struggling with reality, plot twists, dreams, and the intermingling of them all. The complete story is eventually laid out with the help of five different narrators, each with an essential part to tell and each nursing an inevitable broken heart. All the various strands come together surprisingly well, perhaps even a bit too neatly in light of all the elements involved. Urroz cites the works of Vargas Llosa and Cervantes as major inspirations for this type of complex storytelling. In the ensuing decade since this impressive debut appeared, he has written several other novels. If they are as compelling and audacious as this one, Urroz is a voice to seek out.