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Montserrat Fontes: Dreams of the Centaur
Book Review
© 2012 James LaFond
Dreams of the Centaur
Montserrat Fontes, Norton, 1996, NY, 349 pages
I bought this novel in 1998, and, not needing it for research, neglected to read it until now. I recently cracked the cover so that I could discard it; keeping my library to the 227 volumes I have shelf space for. The story is set in Sonora, the Yucatan, Mexico City, and Arizona. It is about family, community, slavery, and genocide; with many surprisingly brutal details, coming as they do from a female literature teacher.
The setting is the late 1800s during the brutal Porfirio Diaz regime, which eventually resulted in a civil war and U.S. intervention. I learned a lot about amputations, subtropical agriculture, and livestock that I was not expecting. The novel is structured in three parts. Part One gets off to an intriguing if slow start in standard narrative style. Part Two takes off as a brutal adventure story told in the first person. Part Three is a fast paced conclusion that mixes the two writing styles employed by the author.
The ultimate test of a novel is will you keep it, to consult for quotes, or to reread. I remember not even liking Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe the first time I read it—then I had to read it again, some nagging portion of my psyche having been moved. Dreams of the Centaur is that kind of story. As Senora Fontes wrote, “she could never understand why men had to straddle everything they valued.”
As a member of the above indicted possessive gender, I will admit to jealously keeping this volume, rather than passing it on or discarding it, as I do with most novels.
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