They may not be ripe… but the plums served up in Enrique Serna’s Fruta Verde are certainly tempting
Reviewed by Georgina Jiménez
FORBIDDEN fruits and love from the gutter such as that gushed over in boleros, particularly the piece sung by Ana María González and written by Luis Alcaráz which gives Fruta Verde (Unripe Fruit) its title, make this morsel from Mexico more than a little juicy.
Serna, currently considered one of Mexico’s best writers, has written a story that is not autobiographical – but clearly inspired by some of his own life experiences.
The author craftily constructs the characters of Germán Lugo, grandchild of two Spanish communist exiles and a budding writer similar to a teenage Serna in some ways, although totally different in others; Paula Recillas, a forty-something, bookworm party animal whose deception by her cheating husband Luis Mario and her own very strict upbringing by a hardworking mother have scarred her for life; and Mauro Llamas, a 30-year-old self-declared gay drama writer born in a land of great ignorance away from the glitz of the big city and with a taste for bending straight males, whose intellect and mordacity are pricks too sharp to be ignored by any self-respecting queen. Fate, work – and alcohol bring these characters together, exacerbating their every virtue and flaw.
Serna’s own mother’s shared a love of literature, and stale instruction in this discipline when he was a teenager forged his own view that it should be, more than anything, a way of entertaining the public. His own experience in the media has also exposed him to characters similar to those that populate this book. He has explained that he was influenced by such luminaries as H.G. Wells, Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft in constructing a plot that aims to anticipate conflict and so hook the reader.
In Fruta Verde it is the conflictive nature of us all – as recogniseable characters – that is at play: the everyday odyssey through critical situations by members of a class that is neither middle nor lower, counteracted by the sarcasm and irony displayed by all Mexicans in the face of suffering to neutralise the destructive forces of corruption, cronyism and prejudice.
Mauro’s discourse as a self-confessed loca who learned long ago that he wanted to express his sexuality openly in a place in which understood values overtake uncomfortable truths is particularly memorable: “Machismo also existed in Sodom and I was one of its violated victims”. His bluntness and coarseness is extremely funny and even endearing, although at times might require a parental advisory warning.
As a frank queen, Mauro is also a maverick not afraid to ruffle the feathers of minion functionaries in his tirade against the censorship and intellectual stagnation generated by the administration of Mexican culture under Margarita López Portillo, sister of the former president José López Portillo – a recurrent theme remembered by all writers from Serna’s generation.
In Mexico it has been debated whether this book is gay or bisexual, to which Serna responds that it is for the reader to label his novel as they see fit. He explains that he wrote it for any intelligent and sensitive reader, and any effort to classify it should treat it as a journey of learning, starting from Flaubert’s Sentimental Education to the Wild Detectives (Los Detectives Salvajes) of Roberto Bolaño.
Serna’s other published works include the novels El seductor de la patria (1999), Uno soñaba que era rey (2000), Señorita México (2000), La palma de oro (2001) and Ángeles del abismo (2004); and the short-story collections Amores de segunda mano(1994) and El orgasmógrafo (2001). Gabriel García Márquez included him in a selection of the greatest Mexican short story tellers of the 20th century.
Georgina Jiménez is a freelance Mexican writer