cover image The Crystal Frontier: A Novel in Nine Stories

The Crystal Frontier: A Novel in Nine Stories

Carlos Fuentes. Farrar Straus Giroux, $23 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-374-13277-4

Though subtitled ""a novel in nine stories,"" the nine pieces that make up Fuentes's latest are a bit too fragmented to warrant that description. True, their protagonists all share some connection to Leonardo Barroso, a powerful, somewhat shady Mexican businessman, but the real common thread--a thin one--is Fuentes's interest in intersections and miscommunications between the U.S. and Mexico. The book opens strongly enough, with ""A Capital Girl,"" a tale of a young woman who falls in love with Barroso but marries his troubled son instead. Yet the second story--about a young Mexican man who discovers his homosexuality while studying medicine at Cornell at Barroso's expense--rings false in its depiction of American collegiate life. Indeed, for a book that seeks to depict the ways in which Americans misunderstand Mexicans and Mexico, there are a surprising number of stereotypes and cliches of life in the States. The most prominent offender is ""Girlfriends,"" the heavy-handed story of a racist rich old Angla and her long-suffering Mexican servant. While the best entries here--the moving ""Malintzin Las Maquilas,"" about the difficult friendship among three exploited female factory workers, and the title story, an offbeat tale of a Mexican window washer's encounter with an American executive--display Fuentes's rich imagination and subtle touch, too many of the characters and situations take a back seat to what are clearly didactic intentions. (Oct.)