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The Virgin’s Guide to Mexico by Eric B. Martin

Discovery through a Roadtrip

Dissecting Eric B. Martin’s new novel challenges the reader in precisely the same way analyzing a good piece of drama does. Writer/director David Mamet’s take on this is that the bad play marginalizes the audience as “other” while the good play involves the audience as a participant by somehow creating empathy with the principal characters. Martin’s novel, The Virgin’s Guide to Mexico accomplishes this empathic strain.

The virgin in question is 17-year old Alma who flees her Austin, Texas home with a leaky plan to discover her mother’s roots in Mexico. While her mother would like her to assimilate with the “Austin spice girl blond brigade,” Alma can’t. She’s super-smart; a Harvard candidate. She prefers Kerouac, Nin, Allende, and Plath to My Space and frat-rock. Although she has spent the last four and a half years learning French, she’s devoted the last year to learning Spanish, her mother’s tongue, at the community college. With language, she says, “you get the basics, and the structure, and then go fall in love.” In her mind, the object of her affections is not necessarily flesh and blood so much as an entire nation.

Like most female teens, Alma despises her body and the trip affords her the opportunity to use her perceived masculine features to her advantage when she disguises herself as a boy to travel through Mexico alone. Alma has “the highest forehead in the west” and "the least feminine neck, a neck built for first and ten.” When a band of boys offer her a ride across the border, she struggles to keep up her disguise in Shakespeare comedy style. A more contrived plotline would create an instant romance with Dean, a UT graduate student. Martin takes pains to create a believable adolescent male mafia with its incipient thirst for the quick drug, beer, and easy lay. Dean is no Duke Orsino worthy of Alma’s devotion. Alma stays the course to reconcile with her mother’s past. To keep her new “friends” at bay, she tells them that she’s a virgin and afraid of women.

In the book, Alma spends many moments alone and Martin is uniquely deft at showing how she not only escapes her present with headphones and books, but with reminiscences about her past. It is the sign of the modern age where no one can be with himself or herself for longer than a minute.

While Alma is careening through Mexico, Alma’s parents, Truitt and Hermelinda are fast on her trail to bring her back to her American home before she falls in love with a new Mexican one. Truitt is the kind of father who notices his daughter is sliding from him and remedies it by buying her an eleven thousand dollar first edition of On the Road. We can see him struggle to reconnect without the proper tools. Her mother is more of a cipher…ironically, in Alma’s quest to discover what her mother won’t reveal about her past, we remain in the dark about her present. In the end, Alma accomplishes her goal. She discovers her mother’s roots. The real question, left unanswered, is why did her mother leave in the first place?

The Virgin’s Guide to Mexico by Eric B. Martin
Macadam Cage Publishers
May 5, 2007
Hardcover, $25
ISBN-13: 978-1-59692-210-5
250 pages