Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

John Sayles is a writer who perhaps is better known popularly as a filmmaker. However, his fiction has been consistently acclaimed by scholars of contemporary writing for its realistic imaginings of the political and social lives of its characters. In Los Gusanos, Sayles extends his vision to include the broadly historical stories of the Cuban American community, stories inherently wrought by various geopolitical dimensions. The novel is critically interesting, as well, for its narrative adventuresomeness. Sayles filters his novel’s action through the imaginations of several different characters, and he offers alternative narratives (diaries, imagined journals) that complement or compete with the dominant narrative in the novel. Sayles also attends to the fidelity of language, strategically sprinkling passages of Spanish throughout Los Gusanos, challenging the reader to enter the very cultural milieu of his characters and to make sense of what initially might be foreign and obscure.

Finally, Sayles takes on the serious and much-argued question of history—its textuality, its reliability, its very nature as truthful narrative. In some ways, Los Gusanos might be considered a historical novel, taking as it does the complex story of Fidel Castro, Fulgencio Batista, the Brigade, and the Bay of Pigs invasion as its narrative backdrop. Sayles also takes into account the multitude of personalities who contribute to the shaping and the telling of history, who contribute their fictions, their biographies, their lies to the larger story that is labeled as history. It is perhaps on this level—as historical critique and as a critique of historical writing—that Los Gusanos operates most significantly.