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SHORT STORIES

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Fuentes looks at many kinds of love

By Mark W. Barringer
Special to the Observer

HAPPY FAMILIES

By Carlos Fuentes. Random House. 352pages. $26.

This volume of short stories, each accompanied by a poem, examines the many forms love can take, even failure. Carlos Fuentes is quite accessible in these stories.

There are stories that deal with the love of husband and wife, gay partners, mother and daughter, siblings, or more abstract loves such as that of country. The most powerful stories focus on the often difficult relationship between father and son. One quarter of these stories deal with this father-son relationship; clearly Fuentes has something to say.

My favorite story deals with the relationship between a father, Isaac, and his four sons, as well as the relationships among the brothers. “The Disobedient Son,” is set during the years following the War of Christ the King, a rebellion against what some saw as the atheistic laws of the Mexican Revolution.

Isaac lays out his plan for all of his sons to head to Guadalajara to study in the seminary there and become priests. Each will begin his studies as soon as he turns 18. Isaac states that in this way not only do they save their eternal souls, they also pay tribute to their grandfather's service in the war.

The sons are not thrilled by this; indeed, none becomes a priest. Each goes off to study when he comes of age; none tells Isaac what he is really studying. Each son feels good that he has followed his own dream and had the courage to rebel against his father's wishes.

But remember, this is a tale by Fuentes where things are rarely what they first seem.

These stories deal not just with love, but the full array of interpersonal relationships, and also the span of Mexican history. As usual, Fuentes also deals with the troublesome issues of socio-economic classes – how they view each other and how they interact, or fail to do so. Families and lovers, after all, are not immune to these problems.

Fuentes is Mexico's premier man of letters. He has also been a diplomat, including serving as the Mexican ambassador to France. In 1984 he was awarded the National Prize for Literature in Mexico.

He is a brilliant man. Sometimes his personal brilliance can overshadow his writing, making for very dense reading. In this volume that tendency only shows in some of the poems. The short stories are masterful, each aimed directly for the heart of its subject.

Mark W. Barringer is a librarian at the Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County's Main Library.

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