Consider This, Señora

(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

Consider This, Señora is the second novel by Harriet Doerr, who won the American Book Award in 1984 for Stones for Ibarra. Like the earlier work, Consider This, Señora centers on several expatriate Americans in a small village in Mexico in the 1960’s and their interactions with the local people. Also like her earlier novel, several chapters of Consider This, Señora appeared before publication in various journals. Although the chapters can stand on their own as individual short stories, they fit neatly together to form a cohesive whole.

In her typically clear, precise prose, Doerr depicts approximately six years in the lives of four Americans who settle temporarily in the tiny village of Amapolas from 1962 to 1968. Each of her ten chapters describes an episode in the life of one or more of the Americans, whimsically contrasting them and their actions with Mexico and its people. Her flashes of insight into what the Mexicans think of these Americans who have invaded their shores speak volumes, especially considering the language barrier. Her descriptions of the downside of Mexican culture—the corruption, the senseless deaths, the poverty, even the major detours and time-consuming delays that accompany efforts to travel, all these things that the Mexicans accept so blithely as apart of everyday life and that the Americans constantly rail against—combine to form a very complete, detailed picture that is more perceptive than tragic.

The story begins with Susanna Ames, a beautiful divorcee in her late twenties who decides to buy a house in Mexico. At the real estate office, she meets fellow American Bud Loomis, a land speculator who persuades her to back him in his latest venture. He has his heart set on Don Enrique Ortiz de León’s ancestral home, which he wants to subdivide into smaller lots for resale. Ever the gentleman, Don Enrique invites the two on a picnic to the property to make certain they really want to buy it. It is remote, barren, and dry, and will get drier yet before the rains. The once-beautiful mansion of the Ortiz de Leóns has become a crumbling ruin since the Revolution of 1910. Thus, on the ruins of a once-illustrious Spanish estate will be built the modern homes of foreigners seeking peace, beauty, and, most important, escape.

The other two Americans who join Sue and Bud are Fran Bowles, whom Sue meets in Santa Prisca over Easter weekend, and her aging mother, Ursula Bowles. Because of her age and because she is the most fully realized character, Ursula is perhaps the character with whom the author most identifies. Ursula, apparently, was born not far from Amapolas, in a small mining village. She has, in essence, come home to die. Fran, however, who is twice divorced, wants a remote retreat where she can entertain the latest love of her life—the handsome and distinguished Francisco Alvarado, or Paco, as she calls him. Fran is currently writing a travel book on Mexico to be published in the United States. Although the reader can only assume that she bought the two lots in order to be closer to her mother, Fran is rarely in residence, as she is too busy pursuing her elusive dreams—in other words, Paco—to spend time with her mother.

As Bud sells the lots and oversees the construction of the houses, the four Americans are eventually joined by others. One of these is Herr Otto von Schramm, a seventy-five-year-old expatriate Austrian musician, who is heard day after day pounding a single note on his Steinway concert grand piano. Until his sister, Madame Anna, comes to join him, he is rarely seen. Despite Bud’s rosy prognosis, however, the lots prove difficult to sell, and so the project never reaches full occupancy.

Although set in the 1960’s, Consider This, Señora could have as easily been set in the 1990’s; there is nothing to ground the themes or characters in that particular time period. In fact, in Amapolas one day is much like the next, a fact best illustrated by Don Enrique’s forgetting to cross dates off his calendar: They tend to slip by “unnoticed.” Sue, too, falls victim to the lethargy of the place as she lets the letters from her former husband pile up, unanswered. The setting and characters reinforce this sense of timelessness. The elderly Pepe Gomez, the oldest man Sue “had ever seen,” recalls an earlier, more glorious time. As the grandson of Don Enrique’s great-grandfather’s majordomo, Pepe is an aging reminder of a time before the Revolution of 1910, when the ancestral home was a prosperous estate—echoed in the name of the nearby village: Amapolas, meaning “poppies.” Now Amapolas is dry and barren, as Pepe is old and bent. A certain continuity is established via Patricio and Altagracia Gomez, Pepe’s great-grandchildren, who now serve the Americans living on the former estate just as Pepe’s grandfather served Don Enrique’s family.

The other Mexican characters, too, continually evoke the past. Don Enrique maintains connections with Pepe because of their ancestors’ mutual bond. Further, Don Enrique’s description of his ancestral home to prospective buyers Bud and Sue necessarily prompts reminiscences of his illustrious ancestors: “On my father’s side, … a governor, a conductor of the national symphony, a rector of the university. On my mother’s, a foreign minister and two bishops.” Furthermore, Patricio and Altagracia fall naturally into positions of servitude to the Americans who...

(The entire section is 2240 words.)