Reviewed by Alan Chin
(PUBLISHER: CreateSpace, 2009, $11.00)
In 1977, Alex, a nineteen-year-old, would-be novelist, relocates to a small town in southern Mexico. Shortly after his arrival, his boss arrives with ten students on spring break, and Alex must act as driver and chaperone to the, only somewhat younger, students. Among the youths that have come to explore ancient Mayan sites are dark, sexy Peter and quiet, mysterious Keenan. During the two week expedition where Alex pilots the boys across the Yucatan in an old van, Peter and Keenan’s sexual advances upend the writer’s comfortable life, making him question everything he knows about love and relationships.
A dozen years later, with a spur-of-the-moment decision, Alex leaves his Boston lover and returns to Mexico to explore his past. At Tulum he begins a rather long and detailed letter to his abandoned lover, to explain his abrupt, inadequately explained departure. As Alex tries to explain the effect the 1977 trip had on him, a then confused and frightened youth, he pours his guilt, regrets, desires, and love onto the pages of the letter, letting us know how the youth became a man capable of expressing love.
Whenever I interview a writer, I always ask what book he or she has read by another author that they wish they had written. Well for me, Do You Remember Tulum is the book I wish I had written. It is a novel, yet it is beautifully written in the form of a lengthy and delightful love letter. The prose is some of the loveliest and moving that I have read. It gave me the feeling of voyeurism, that I was secretly reading someone’s letter to his lover, with all the passion and intimacy of two people deeply in love. And through this letter, this peeking into the narrator’s experiences, hopes, and dreams, I watched him map the geography of love.
This is not an easy book to read. There were times when I found the story-line to be glacially slow and bogged down in delicious detail, and it often seemed to be rambling on with seemingly no direction. That aside, this travelogue never felt tedious, because the marvelous prose carried me along as if in a dream, not wanting to be wakened and confronted by the real world again. There were several parts that were stunning, and I couldn’t put it down.
This is not book for everyone. People who need an obvious plot to carry them along, or bold characters who never falter, should not attempt this read. But for readers who love subtly, who enjoy seeing themselves caught within the dashes of ink on the page, who are capable of discovery, then I highly recommend this book.
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