Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The Fair represents Arreola’s first attempt at novel writing. A master of short fiction, his preference for brevity and concision is apparent even in this narrative, which is composed of nearly three hundred fragments of both prose and verse, anywhere from partial lines to a few pages in length. This work is also singular within his production because of its subject matter: Mexican life and language as they exist in his hometown of Zapotlán el Grande.

In his book on Arreola, Yulan M. Washburn states that although the Mexican author began as a realistic writer, by the 1950’s he had become a proponent of nonrealistic literature, a new trend that departed from traditional realism as well as the preoccupation with the Mexican Revolution. While not the leader of a formal movement, both his interest in the fantastic and a remarkable versatility of form and style designated him as an example for Mexico’s young writers.

Arreola’s ambiguous position within Mexican literature may be accounted for in several ways. First, his predilection for timeless, universal themes rather than the country’s social, political, and economic problems has given the appearance of indifference toward national concerns. Second, he chose to cultivate short fiction forms at a time when the novel was experiencing unprecedented levels of prestige and popularity in Mexican and indeed all of Spanish American literature. Third, his reading public was unaccustomed to, and therefore frequently unwilling to accept, a fantastic rendering of serious subjects. These and other considerations (which may be summed up as an overall license with literary conventions) cost Arreola the approval of critics and public alike. Nevertheless, Arreola’s contribution to Mexican literature, a “new, more cosmopolitan vision of art,” is significant and undeniable.