James A. Michener’s name has become synonymous with long, leisurely, meticulously researched narratives. MEXICO, partly written in the early 1960’s and finished more than thirty years later, is no exception. Its protagonist is Norman Clay, a photographer-journalist with Spanish, Mexican Indian, and American ancestors who returns to his native Toledo to cover a three-day festival for a New York magazine. An intense personal competition between two bullfighters portends a dramatic climax in which on of the two will succeed in goading the other into a fatal risk in the bullring.
Clay’s fascination with the contrasting styles of the two matadors leads him into an exploration of their pasts. Clay’s own cosmopolitan heritage involves fifteen hundred years of both Old and New World history, vividly presented through the passions and conflicts of characters both fictional and historical. Michener interpolates the chapters revealing Clay’s near and remote forebears into those detailing the weekend events in this mythical Mexican town.
In addition to Victoriano Leal and Juan Gomez, the two chief bullfighters, the well-drawn characters include Mrs. Evans, a young-at-heart widow from Oklahoma who has come down with friends to experience the festival; Leon Ledesma, a literate but sardonic critic; and Don Eduardo Palafox, Clay’s kinsman, an unscrupulous breeder of bulls. Michener has crammed his novel with the lore of bullfighting and spiced it with two ambitious young Americans, Penny Grim, seeking romance and adventure before settling into college studies, and Richard Martin, eager to become that rare thing, a norteamericano matador.