(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Stones for Ibarra began as a series of short stories that share a general location in a central Mexican town so small it does not appear on the fictional map of Mexico. The vignettes that constitute the eighteen chapters of the novel chronicle a series of events focused on one character of Ibarra after another, connected by the passage of time between the arrival of Richard and Sara Everton and Sara’s departure six years later. Doerr claimed that only a small part of Stones for Ibarra was autobiographical, but the framework of the novel recalls the Doerr family’s forays to Mexico.

In the first chapter, “The Evertons Out of Their Minds,” the fictional Sara and Richard Everton go to Mexico from San Francisco, California, to reclaim the family estate and reopen a copper mine abandoned since the Mexican Revolution of 1910. Not long after their arrival at the unexpectedly dilapidated house, which fails to match the faded family photos or the Evertons’s dreams, Richard is diagnosed with leukemia and given six years to live. Despite the brevity of the second chapter, “A Clear Understanding,” several months pass in which the Evertons are observed by the townspeople, who find the Americans peculiar, and the dead spirits of Richard’s family, who Sara believes are present in the house. Richard hires workers for the mine. The Evertons travel to California, returning with special plant food and medication for Richard’s illness. By the end of a year, the village natives conclude that the Americans are mediodesorientado, or half-oriented, and the Evertons understand the natives just as little. “The Life Sentence of José Reyes” tells the tale of a decent man whose life is changed forever by two events: the two years of drought that destroy his field and the accident he suffers at the hands of the Palacio brothers, which results in an epilepsy he cannot afford to treat. The first loss leads José to drunken despair in the local...

(The entire section is 806 words.)