Sunday, April 10, 2011


Jimmy Burns is an ex-Marine, an ex-dealer in stolen pre-Columbian artifacts, and an American expat living the simple life deep inside Mexico in a little town called Merida.  He does manage to make a living using his old beat up truck to do small hauling jobs to the jungle for archaeologists and others seeking to exploit the country’s buried past, but he is easily distracted.  Jimmy enjoys his down time and is not overly concerned about his future, content to take life one day at a time.

While he may be an idler, Jimmy does care about the people closest to him and he has a keen sense of the absurd.  This is a good thing since his little corner of Mexico is about to be invaded by some of the most absurd Americans imaginable, a group of hippies and slackers who barely know where they are, much less why they are. 

Gringos centers around Jimmy’s search for Rudy Kurle, a young man for whom Jimmy feels responsible after allowing him to wander away from a dangerously isolated dig site.  Jimmy’s search takes him and his crew to an ancient holy site just when dozens of the worthless hippies converge there in expectation of some major revelation.  Here the search grows complicated, and changes focus entirely, when Jimmy is forced to rescue two children who will not otherwise survive the night’s weirdness.

Gringos is one of those novels that suffer from a lack of likable characters to such a degree that it is difficult to care what happens to any of them, including the novel’s supposed hero/narrator.  The whole novel, at times, seems as tired and pointless as the lives led by its characters, making its ending, in which Jimmy unresistingly drifts into the next phase of his life, unsurprising.

Readers captivated by the renewed interest in Charles Portis novels (following the recent success of the movie remake of True Grit) will want to take a look at Gringos since Portis has written so few books.  I would, however, suggest that they might want to read this one after having first sampled other Portis novels.

Rated at: 2.0


  1. Well, this one just arrived in the mail. I loved True Grit, by the way. I think I'll end up not liking it for all the reasons you mention. It sounds a bit like Easy Rider, which I've never been able to sit through.

    Even and old lefty like me can only take so many hippies.

  2. I can barely tolerate the idea of hippies anymore, it seems. That whole "culture" was such a waste of potential and the ruination of so many lives that I have a hard time even reading about it. Of course, I was on "the other side" starting in 1968, in the U.S. Army, where I spent a bit of time learning riot control techniques and getting to use them on a couple of occasions. It's too late for me to change my attitude now.