John Washington in Terrain:
If you’re a white American male looking to write a “Mexico novel,” you probably think you have a lot of material to work with. You might be inspired, for example, by the ostentatious cartel violence of the past decade, or perhaps the exhibitionistic political corruption of the past century, or the harrowing migration stories of hundreds of thousands of Central Americans crossing Mexico every year, or you might even want to latch on to the guerrilla uprising of the Zapatistas in the 90s, or the surge in auto-defense and vigilantism in Michoacan and Guerrero today, or you might find inspiration in the crowded megalopolis of Mexico City or the guitar-lonely streets of colonial ghost towns or the cockfights in the Sierras or the bullfights in Tijuana or the explosion of kidnappings plaguing much of the country, or maybe, like Cormac McCarthy’s characters, you might be simply starstruck by a girl, or a horse, or a wolf. The material—Mexico (also the title of a Michener novel)—seems ready, ripe, nearly moaning for novelization.
But rather than spend your lucubratory late nights pencil-tapping, muse-channeling, or violence-gazing as you craft your masterpiece, you might just come to the country with a recorder. Because the story, let’s call it “your” story—of kidnappings, hunger, jungle uprisings, street shootouts, or Holy Death—is being lived right now probably better than you can plot it out. And the stories aren’t exoticized or eroticized. That’s to say, Studs Turkel would probably do better here than Thomas Pynchon; Upton Sinclair better than Stephen King.