A review of

The Obstacles

by Eloy Urroz

Central question: What mucks things up more: being in love or stepping into a parallel universe of your own creation?
Format: 352 pp., paperback; Size: 5.5" x 8.5"; Price: $13.95; Publisher: Dalkey Archive Press; Editor: John O’Brien; Book design: Clinton Inselmann & N. J. Furl; Translator: Ezra Fitz; Author is: a professor at James Madison University; Novel’s original title: Las Rémoras; Urroz’s favorite American author: William Faulkner; Combination that causes one protagonist in novel to hallucinate: Having an ulcer and watching Hitchcock’s Frenzy; Representative sentence: “To remain there, shrunken and bashful, until at long last the night makes love to the earth and darkness hovers over the world—deep down, that was all I wished for.”

In 1996 Eloy Urroz and four other Mexican writers published the “Crack Manifesto.” Its name is a nod to writers of the boom generation, and its mission was to break with the saccharine magic realism then synonymous with Latin American literature (see Like Water for Chocolate). The manifesto’s writers wanted to follow their literary heroes—Borges, Vargas Llosa, Faulkner, Nabokov, and Calvino—and renew the urge towards structural invention and complexity. The Obstacles, Urroz’s first novel to appear in English, exemplifies their mission.

Parallel plots reveal the stories of Ricardo Urrutia, a young man living in Mexico City whose father has recently died, and Elías, an orphaned writer (sans surname) living in the tranquil coastal town of Las Rémoras. Both are having trouble with unattainable women: Ricardo with Laila, the girl next door, and Elías with Roberta, a prostitute at the local brothel who grants him everything but exclusivity. Between both potential pairs lies Inès. In the first story line, she’s a maid with bad timing; in the second, a brothel manager. Ricardo is writing, “my own story set in Las Rémoras,” starring—drum roll, please—a writer named Elías. As for notebook-carting Elías, well, he’s working on a story about Ricardo. “He, Ricardo, will come to visit us here in Las Rémoras.” Will the real Mexican author please stand up?

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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—Karla Starr

Karla Starr is words editor for Willamette Week in Portland, Ore., and a freelance writer for publications including Seattle Weekly and Entertainment Weekly. She is currently at work on a novel.

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