I love novels about novelists. I love novels about Mexico. I love novels about love. I love novels that are descriptive, written so that other places, people and relationships practically walk off the pages and into my living room. Suzan Still’s Fiesta of Smoke is that kind of novel.
Graduate student Calypso Searcy meets Javier Carteña when he accidentally knocks her over, running away from a shoplifting incident. He tracks her down and breaks into her apartment to apologize. This marks the beginning of a love affair that will span decades and borders and marriages and love affairs with other people, as Calypso slowly comes to take on Javier’s cause – social justice for Mexico’s indigenous people – as her own.
Still writes characters I’d like to meet, in circumstances I have trouble imagining. I absolutely love how she brought the unlikely chemistry between Calypso and Javier to life, as when they meet after years and sit next to each other at a jai alai game:
At the point where their bodies met – their hands and arms, tips of their shoulders, their thighs and feet – all along the left side of her body, in fact, there was blissful peace, as if that portion of her flesh, at least, had finally come home to roost. He leaned into her in that way he always had when they were at odds, of ignoring her and communicating with her at the same time. It was the feeling of utter physical intimacy. She relaxed into this sensation, precious beyond thought. The jai alai games continued below but Calypso was sunk in a sea of both remembrance and immediate awareness. At last, she understood Camus: she was lucid and in ecstacy. p. 163
What do I not love? Novels that bounce around in time. I’m a chronological kind of girl, and I don’t really enjoy starting at the end or in the middle. And then heading somewhere else. My one quibble about the book was the way it ricocheted between decades and locations and different parts of characters’ lives in a way that I found kind of confusing. And let’s face it, the situation in Mexico – corrupt politicians, paramilitary organizations, unbelievable wealth next to unfathomable poverty – is confusing enough.
In general, though, I loved the book, and would certainly recommend it to lovers of contemporary fiction. The military themes and the precarious situation in Mexico give the book, especially the ending, a bit of the feel of a thriller. I read this book as part of a TLC Book Tour, and received a free copy of the book in return for my honest opinion. Thanks to Trish for including me on the tour! Follow this link to see what others had to say about this title.